A Textual content-Guide on the Historical past of Portray by John Charles Van Dyke was printed a century in the past. At this time it affords the fashionable reader not solely potted, interval critiques of essential artists, but in addition a outstanding perception into how aesthetics change from technology to technology. John Charles Van Dyke’s assessments of some work will shock as we speak’s reader, particularly his attitudes in direction of some modern artists who acquired quite hostile reactions from some quarters when their work was first exhibited.
The guide offers with the European custom. It makes no excuses for this. On the time, non-European art was maybe much less well-known in Western essential circles. Maybe additionally, it was considered by some means inferior, maybe additionally merely as a result of it was not European in origin. However Van Dyke does supply us a working distinction that excludes most non-European art from his survey, that of the distinction between remark and expression. Solely that which goals at expression, for van Dyke no less than, is worthy of the label “art”. By some means historic Egyptian art makes it into the oeuvre, in all probability as a result of it was additionally represented in museums that have been shut at hand and accessible.
Two painters specifically illustrate the distinction in therapy between van Dyke’s age and our personal, El Greco and Alma-Tadema. El Greco is hardly talked about as a determine in sixteenth century Spain, his achievements apparently being considered quite localised on Toledo. Thus a determine now considered a novel stylist and visionary hardly figures on this textual content. Alma-Tadema, whose academicism and element may as we speak supply abstract and epitome of the staid Victorian England that toyed euphemistically with the erotic can also be dismissed. And one of many few English painters to be raised to the peerage, Frederick Leighton, additionally didn’t impress Professor Van Dyke. Neither, it appears, did Albrecht Durer.
Central to Van Dyke’s aesthetic is a judgment as as to whether the painter not solely represents, interprets and expresses, but in addition constructs a painting. Mere actuality isn’t sufficient, it appears, life requiring the ability of an editor or architect to render its expertise communicable. It’s fascinating to replicate on how a lot or little we nonetheless worth this facet of aesthetics in as we speak’s painting.
A few of Van Dyke’s observations will no less than entertain. Franz Hals, we be taught, lived a quite careless life. William Blake was hardly a painter in any respect. A Dutchman is attributed with the faint reward of being a novel painter of poultry. Matthew Maris is criticised for being a recorder of visions and desires quite than the substantial issues of earth, whereas Turner is dismissed as weird and lavish, qualities that as we speak may improve quite than diminish his popularity.
However Van Dyke’s guide stays an fascinating, informative and rewarding learn, regardless of its distance from modern pondering. He’s particularly robust in his abstract descriptions of the totally different Italian colleges of the late Gothic and Renaissance eras. It’s greater than helpful to be reminded of how impartial these metropolis states have been on the time and the way little they managed to affect each other. A Textual content-Guide on the Historical past of Portray by John Charles Van Dyke stays, then, a vital learn for anybody within the historical past of art. A lot has modified, however then there may be a lot that has not.