Friday, April 29, 2005

William Blake on Joshua Reynolds

Jonathan Jones had an article last week declaring William Blake Britain's greatest artist- or actually the only British artist that would make it onto a top 100 list of the world's greatest - so I thought I would post Wiiliam Blake's comments on Joshua Reynolds, written in the margins of his copy of Reynolds' Discourses on Art. Italicized/lavendar lines are excerpts from Reynolds's text.

This Man was Hired to Depress Art.

This is the opinion of Will Blake: my Proofs of this Opinion are given in the following Notes...

Having spent the vigor of my Youth and Genius under the Oppression of Sr Joshua & his Gang of Cunning Hired Knaves Without Employment & as much as could possibly be Without Bread, The Reader must Expect to Read in all my Remarks on these Books Nothing but Indignation& Resentment. While Sir Joshua was rolling in Riches, Barry was Poor & Unemploy'd except by his own Energy; Mortimer was call'd a Madman, & only Portrait Painting applauded & rewarded by the Rich & Great. Reynolds & Gainsborough Blotted & Blurred one against the other & Divided all the English World between them. Fuseli, Indignant, almost hid himself. I am hid.

One of the strongest-marked characters of this kind ... is that of Salvator Rosa. - Reynolds

Why should these words be applied to such a Wretch as Salvator Rosa? Salvator Rosa was precisely what he Pretended not to be. His Pictures are high Labour'd pretensions to Expeditious Workmanship. He was the Quack Doctor of Painting. His Roughness & Smoothnesses are the Production of Labour & Trick. As to Imagination, he was totally without Any.

I will mention two other painters, who, though entirely disimilar... have both gained reputation... The painters I mean, are Rubens and Poussin. Rubens... I think... a remarkable instance of the same mind being seen in all the various parts of the art. The whole is so much of a piece... - Reynolds

All Rubens's Pictures are painted by Journeymen & so far from being all of a Piece, are The most wretched Bungles.

His Colouring, in which he is eminently skilled, is not withstanding too much of what we call tinted. - Reynolds

To My Eye Rubens's Colouring is most Contemptible. His Shadows are of a Filthy Brown somewhat of the Colour of Excrement; these are fill'd with tints & messes of yellow & red. His lights are all the Colours of the Rainbow, laid on Indiscriminately & broken into one another. Altogether his Colouring is Contrary to The Colouring of Real Art & Science.

Opposed to Rubens's Colouring Sir Joshua Reynolds has placed Poussin, but he ought to put All Men of Genius who ever Painted. Rubens & the Venetians are Opposite in every thing to True Art & they Meant to be so; they were hired for this Purpose.

The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted, and will produce no crop... - Reynolds

The mind that could have produced this sentence must have been a Pitiful, a Pitiable Imbecility. I always thought that the Human Mind was the most Prolific of All Things & Inexhaustible. I certainly do Thank God that I am not like Reynolds.

Charlie Finch, eat your heart out!!!

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