Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/June 1872/Effects of Faulty Vision in Painting
|EFFECTS OF FAULTY VISION IN PAINTING.|
By R. LIEBREICH,
OPHTHALMIC SURGEON AND LECTURER. AT ST. THOMAS'S HOSPITAL.
WHEN I arrived in England about eighteen months ago, little thinking that a short vacation tour would end in my permanent residence here, I at once paid a visit to the National Gallery. I was anxious to see Turner's pictures, which on the Continent I had had no opportunity of doing. How great was my astonishment when, after having admired his earlier works, I entered another room which contained his later paintings! Are these really by the same hand? I asked myself on first inspecting them; or have they suffered in any way? On examining them, however, more closely, a question presented itself to my mind which was to me a subject of interesting diagnosis. Was the great change, which made the painter of "Crossing the Brook" afterward produce such pictures as "Shade and Darkness," caused by an ocular or cerebral disturbance? Researches into the life of Turner could not afford an answer to this question. All that I could learn was, that during the last five years of his life his power of vision as well as his intellect had suffered. In no way, however, did this account for the changes which began to manifest themselves about fifteen years before that time. The question could therefore only be answered by a direct study of his pictures from a purely scientific, and not at all from an aesthetic or artistic point of view.
I chose for this purpose pictures belonging to the middle of the period which I consider pathological, i.e., not quite healthy, and analyzed them in all their details, with regard to color, drawing, and distribution of light and shade.
It was particularly important to ascertain if the anomaly of the whole picture could be deduced from a regularly-recurring fault in its details. This fault is a vertical streakiness, which is caused by every illuminated point having been changed into a vertical line. The elongation is, generally speaking, in exact proportion to the brightness of the light; that is to say, the more intense the light which diffuses itself from the illuminated point in Nature, the longer becomes the line which represents it on the picture. Thus, for instance, there proceeds from the sun in the centre of a picture a vertical yellow streak, dividing it into two entirely distinct halves, which are not connected by any horizontal line. In Turner's earlier pictures, the disk of the sun is clearly defined, the light equally radiating to all parts; and, even where through the reflection of water a vertical streak is produced, there appears, distinctly marked through the vertical streak of light, the line of the horizon, the demarcation of the land in the foreground, and the outline of the waves in an horizontal direction. In the pictures, however, of which I am now speaking, the tracing of any detail is perfectly effaced when it falls in the vertical streak of light. Even less illuminated objects, like houses or figures, form considerably elongated streaks of light. In this manner, therefore, houses that stand near the water, or people in a boat, blend so entirely with the reflection in the water, that the horizontal line of demarcation between house and water or boat and water entirely disappears, and all becomes a conglomeration of vertical lines. Every thing that is abnormal in the shape of objects, in the drawing, and even in the coloring of the pictures of this period, can be explained by this vertical diffusion of light.
How and at what time did this anomaly develop itself?
Till the year 1830 all is normal. In 1831 a change in the coloring becomes for the first time perceptible, which gives to the works of Turner a peculiar character not found in any other master. Optically this is caused by an increased intensity of the diffused light proceeding from the most illuminated parts of the landscape. This light forms a haze of a bluish color which contrasts too much with the surrounding portion in shadow. From the year 1833 this diffusion of light becomes more and more vertical. It gradually increases during the following years. At first it can only be perceived by a careful examination of the picture, but from the year 1839 the regular vertical streaks become apparent to every one. This increases subsequently to such a degree that, when the pictures are closely examined, they appear as if they had been wilfully destroyed by vertical strokes of the brush before they were dry, and it is only from a considerable distance that the object and the meaning of the picture can be comprehended. During the last years of Turner's life, this peculiarity became so extreme that his pictures can hardly be understood at all.
It is a generally-received opinion that Turner adopted a peculiar manner, that he exaggerated it more and more, and that his last works are the result of a deranged intellect. I am convinced of the incorrectness, I might almost say of the injustice, of this opinion. The word "manner" has a very vague meaning. In general we understand by it something which has been arbitrarily assumed by the artist. It may be the result of study, of reflection, of a development of principle, or the consequence of a chance observation, of an experiment, or of an occasional success. Nothing of all this applies to what has been called Turner's manner. Nothing in him is arbitrary, assumed, or of set purpose. According to my opinion, his manner is exclusively the result of a change in his eyes, which developed itself during the last twenty years of his life. In consequence of it the aspect of Nature gradually changed for him, while he continued in an unconscious, I might almost say in a naïve manner, to reproduce what he saw. And he reproduced it so faithfully and accurately, that he enables us distinctly to recognize the nature of the disease of his eyes, to follow its development step by step, and to prove by an optical contrivance the correctness of our diagnosis. By the aid of this contrivance we can see Nature under the same aspect as he saw and represented it. With the same we can also, as I shall prove to you by an experiment, give to Turner's early pictures the appearance of those of the later period.
After he had reached the age of fifty-five, the crystalline lenses of Turner's eyes became rather dim, and dispersed the light more strongly, and in consequence threw a bluish mist over illuminated objects. This is a pathological increase of an optical effect, the existence of which, even in the normal eye, can be proved by the following experiment:
If you look at a picture which hangs between two windows, you will not be able to see it distinctly, as it will be, so to speak, veiled by a grayish haze. But, if you hold your hands before your eyes so as to shade them from the light of the windows, the veiling mist disappears, and the picture becomes clearly visible. The disturbing light had been diffused by the refracting media of the eye, and had fallen on the same part of the retina on which the picture was formed. If we examine the eye by an illumination resembling that by means of which Prof. Tyndall, in his brilliant experiments, demonstrated to you the imperfect transparency of water, we find that even the clearest and most beautiful eye is not so perfectly transparent as we would suppose. The older we get the more the transparency decreases, especially of the lens. But, to produce an effect equal to that visible in Turner's pictures after the year 1831, pathological conditions are required. In the years that followed, as often happens in such cases, a clearly-defined opacity was formed in the slight and diffuse dimness of the crystalline lens. In consequence of this the light was no longer evenly diffused in all directions, but principally dispersed in a vertical direction. At this period the alteration offers, in the case of a painter, the peculiarity that it only affects the appearance of natural objects, where the light is strong enough to produce this disturbing effect, while the light of his painting is too feeble to do so: therefore, the aspect of Nature is altered; that of his picture correct. Only within the last years of Turner's life, the dimness had increased so much, that it prevented him from seeing even his pictures correctly. This sufficiently accounts for the strange appearance of his last pictures, without its being necessary to take into account the state of his mind.
It may seem hazardous to designate a period as diseased, the beginning of which art-critics and connoisseurs have considered as his climax. I do not think that the two opinions are in decided contradiction to each other. To be physiologically normal is not at all a fundamental condition in art; and we cannot deny the legitimacy of the taste which regards that which is entirely sound and healthy as commonplace, trivial, and uninteresting, and which on the contrary is fascinated by that which approaches the border of disease and even, goes beyond it.
Many of the best musicians, for instance, and some of the greatest admirers of Beethoven, prefer his latest works, and consider them the most interesting, although the influence of his deafness upon them is apparent to others.
In poetry, we rank some poems among the highest productions of art, in which the imagination of the poet goes far beyond the normal region of the mind:
"The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven."
Thus it seems to me perfectly natural that the peculiar poetical haze which is produced by the diffusion of light in Turner's pictures after 1831 should have a particular attraction for many of Turner's admirers. On the other hand, passing over the faults, we discover in these pictures peculiar merits, and we recognize that the great artist continued in many ways to improve, even at a time of his life when his failing sight began to deprive his works of general favor. I cannot, however, defend the opinion of those who are enraptured with Turner's pictures belonging to a still later period—who consider a picture beautiful which, in consequence of this optical defect, is entirely disfigured and defaced, and who, calling this Turner's style, would like to form it into a school and imitate it. They resemble the porter of a certain dealer in works of art, who one day, when he had to deliver the torso of a Venus at a gentleman's house, answered the servant, who had expressed his astonishment that his master should have bought a thing without head, arms, or legs, "You don't understand; that's just the beauty of it."
I show you here first a picture which is copied from an oil-painting in the South-Kensington Museum. This picture was not exhibited till the year 1833, but it was painted some time before, and from sketches taken in Venice previous to any change in Turner's sight. I shall now try so to change this picture, by an optical contrivance, as to make it resemble the pictures he painted after 1839. You must, of course, not expect to see in this rough representation, which a large theatre necessitates, any thing of the real beauty of Turner's pictures. Our object is to analyze their faults.
In order to show you in a single object what you have already observed in the general aspect of a picture, I choose purposely a tree, because there are no trees in the "Venice" you have just seen, and more particularly because after the year 1833 Turner painted trees that were unknown to any botanist, had never been seen in Nature, nor been painted by any other artist. I do not think it likely that Turner invented a tree he had never seen; it seems to me more probable that he painted such trees because he saw them so in Nature. I searched for them with the aid of the lens, and soon discovered them. Here is a common tree; the glass changes it into a Turner tree.
Let us now turn from the individual case of a great artist to a whole category of cases, in which the works of painters are modified by anomalies in their vision—I mean cases of irregularities in the refraction of the eye. The optical apparatus of the eye forms, like the apparatus of a photographer, inverted images. In order to be seen distinctly, these images must fall exactly upon the retina. The capacity of the eye to accommodate itself to different consecutive distances, so as to receive on the retina distinct images of objects, is called accommodation. This faculty depends upon the power of the crystalline lens to change its form. The accommodation is at its greatest tension if we adapt our eye to the nearest point. It is, on the contrary, in complete repose if we adapt it to the farthest point. The optical state of the eye during its adaptation for the farthest point, when every effort of accommodation is completely suspended, is called its refraction.
There are three different kinds of refraction: firstly, that of the normal eye; secondly, of the short-sighted eye; thirdly, of the over-sighted eye:
1. The normal eye, when the activity of its accommodation is perfectly suspended, is adjusted for the infinite distance; that is to say, it unites upon the retina parallel rays of light.
2. The short-sighted eye has, in consequence of an extension of its axis, a stronger refraction, and unites, therefore, in front of the retina the rays of light which proceed from infinite distance. In order to be united upon the retina itself, the rays of light must be divergent; that is to say, they must come from a nearer point. The more short-sighted the eye is, the stronger must be the divergence; such an eye, in order to see distinctly distant objects, must make the rays from a distant object more divergent, by aid of a concave glass. We determine the degree of short-sightedness by the power of the weakest concave glass that enables the eye to see distinctly at a great distance.
3. The over-sighted, or hypermetropic eye, on the contrary, has too weak a refraction: it unites convergent rays of light upon the retina; parallel or divergent rays of light it unites behind the retina, unless an effort of accommodation is made. The degree of hypermetropy, or over-sightedness, is determined by the focal distance of the strongest convex glass with which objects can still be distinctly seen at a great distance.
Hypermetropy has no essential influence upon painting; it only reduces the power of application, and must therefore be corrected by wearing convex glasses. This can never be avoided if the hypermetropy is so great as to diminish the distinctness of vision. Short-sightedness, on the contrary, generally influences the choice of the subject of the artist and also the manner of its execution. As a very small handwriting is an indication of short-sightedness, so we find that artists who paint small pictures, and finish the details with great minuteness, and with fine touches of the brush, are mostly short-sighted.
Sometimes the shape of the eye diverges from its normal spherical form, and this is called astigmatism. This has only been closely investigated since Airy discovered it in his own eye. Figure to yourself meridians drawn on the eye as on a globe, so that one pole is placed in front: then you can define astigmatism as a difference in the curvature of two meridians, which may, for instance, stand perpendicularly upon each other; the consequence of which is a difference in the power of refraction of the eye in the direction of the two meridians. An eye may, for instance, have a normal refraction in its horizontal meridian, and be short-sighted in its vertical meridian. Small differences of this kind are found in almost every eye, but are not perceived. Higher degrees of astigmatism, which decidedly disturb vision, are, however, not uncommon, and are, therefore, also found among painters. I have had occasion to examine the eyes of several distinguished artists which presented such an anomaly, and it interested me much to discover what influence this defect had upon their works. The diversity depends in part upon the degree and nature of the optical anomaly, but its effect shows itself in different ways, according to the subjects the artist paints. An example will explain this better. I know a landscape-painter and a portrait-painter who have both the same kind of astigmatism; that is, the refraction of the vertical meridian differs from the refraction of the horizontal one. The consequence is, that their sight is normal for vertical lines, but for horizontal lines they are
|Fig. 1.||Fig. 2.|
slightly short-sighted. Upon the landscape-painter this has hardly any disturbing influence. In painting distant views, sharp outlines are not requisite, but rather undefined and blending tones of color. His eye is sufficiently normal to see these. I was struck, however, by the fact that the foreground of his pictures, which generally represents water with gently-moving waves, was not painted with the same truthfulness to Nature as the middle and background. There I found short horizontal strokes of the brush In different colors, which did not seem to belong to the water. I therefore examined the picture with a glass, which, when added to my eye, produced the same degree of astigmatism as existed in the painter's eye, and the whole picture appeared much more beautiful, the foreground being now as perfect as the middle and background. In consequence of this artificially-produced astigmatism, I saw the horizontal strokes of the brush indistinctly, and so mixed together that through them the color and transparency of the water were most exquisitely rendered.
Upon the portrait-painter astigmatism had a very different influence. He was held in high esteem in Paris, on account of his excellent grasp of character and intellectual individuality. His admirers considered even the material resemblance of his portraits as perfect; most people, however, thought he had intentionally neglected the material likeness by rendering in an indistinct and vague manner the details of the features and the forms. A careful analysis of the picture shows that this indistinctness was not at all intentional, but simply the consequence of astigmatism. Within the last few years, the portraits of this painter have become considerably worse, because the former indistinctness has grown into positively false proportions. The neck and oval of the face appear in all his portraits considerably elongated, and all details are in the same manner distorted. What is the cause
of this? Has the degree of his astigmatism increased? No; this does not often happen: but the effect of astigmatism has doubled, and this has happened in the following manner: An eye which is normal as regards the vision of vertical lines, but short-sighted for horizontal lines, sees the objects elongated in a vertical direction. When the time of life arrives that the normal eye becomes far-sighted, but not yet the short-sighted eye, this astigmatic eye will at short distance see the vertical lines indistinctly, but horizontal lines still distinctly; and, therefore, near objects will be elongated in an horizontal direction. The portrait-painter, in whom a slight degree of astigmatism manifested itself at first only by the indistinctness of the horizontal lines, has now become far-sighted for vertical lines, and therefore sees a distant person elongated in a vertical direction; his picture, on the contrary, being at a short distance, is seen by him enlarged in an horizontal direction, and is thus painted still more elongated than the subject is seen: so the fault is doubled. I shall be able to show this more clearly by experiments.
The vertical and horizontal lines of the diagram (Fig. 1) are reflected with equal distinctness upon the screen by the spherical apparatus.
Those among my audience who have a decided form of astigmatism will, nevertheless, see them differently. Those whose sight is normal will only observe a difference after I have added a cylindrical lens to this apparatus, and thus made it astigmatical (Fig. 2). Ordinary spectacle-glasses are worked by a rotating movement on the surface of a sphere; cylindrical lenses are worked by moving the glass backward and forward upon a cylindrical surface. Such glasses produce an optical effect only in one direction. If instead of white lines I make the experiment with colored lines, it will show the mixing of colors produced by astigmatism; and if I now turn the axis of the lens, you will observe the effect of different forms of astigmatism. I show you a square (Fig. 3): if I add a cylindrical concave glass, with its axis placed horizontally, the square becomes an oblong.
In order now to show you how it is possible that the same eye may see an object at too great a distance elongated in a vertical direction, and, on the contrary, one that is too near enlarged in an horizontal direction, I need only place this cylindrical glass before or behind the focus of the apparatus without turning the axis, and you will then see the square, first elongated in a vertical direction (Fig. 4), and then enlarged in an horizontal direction.
Lastly, I show you a portrait. Imagine to yourself that it represents the person whom the astigmatical painter is painting; then, by aid of the cylindrical glass, you can form an idea how the painter sees this person.
If I alter the position of the glass, the portrait assumes the form in which the painter sees his own painting on the canvas. This will explain to you why he paints the portrait still longer than he sees the person.
With regard to an anomaly of sight, which seems almost foreign to the subject of painting—I mean color-blindness—I will also say a few words here, as the subject seems to be regarded with particular interest in England.
What we call color-blindness is a congenital defect of vision, which is characterized by the absence of one of the three primary sensations of color. The primary sensations of color are red, green, and violet, according to Thomas Young and Helmholtz; or red, green, and blue, according to Maxwell. When, as may easily happen, to this defect is joined a decided talent for painting, drawing alone ought to be attempted, because so absolute a defect will soon assert itself. But we meet with slighter degrees of color-blindness, where the perception of red is not entirely wanting, but only considerably diminished; so that, for instance, an intense or strongly illuminated red can be perceived as such, while a less intense red appears green. This moderate degree of color-blindness does not always deter people from painting. A proof of this I saw at the last year's Exhibition, in a picture which represented a cattle-market. The roofs of the surrounding houses were all painted red on the sunny side, green in the shadow; but—what particularly struck me—the oxen also were red in the sun, green in the shadow. The slighter degrees of this anomaly, in the form of an insufficient perception of colors, have probably been the real cause why several great artists, who have become famous on account of the beauty of their drawing and the richness of their compositions, have failed to attain an equal degree of perfection in coloring.
In opposition to these isolated cases, I have to draw your attention to other cases which happen more frequently, and in advanced age, in consequence of a change in the perception of colors. They do not arise from a deficient function of the nervous apparatus of the eye, but in consequence of a change in the color of the lens.
The lens always gets rather yellow at an advanced age, and with many people the intensity of the discoloration is considerable. This, however, does not essentially diminish the power of vision. In order to get a distinct idea of the effect of this discoloration, it is best to make experiments with yellow glasses of the corresponding shade. Only, the experiment must be continued for some time, because at first every thing looks yellow to us. But the eye gets soon accustomed to the color, or rather it becomes dulled with regard to it, and then things appear again in their true light and color. This is at least the case with all objects of a somewhat bright and deep color. A careful examination, however, shows that a pale blue, or rather a certain small quantity of blue, cannot be perceived even after a very prolonged experiment, and after the eye has long got accustomed to the yellow color, because the yellow glass really excludes it. This must, of course, exercise a considerable influence when looking at pictures, on account of the great difference which necessarily exists between real objects and their representation in pictures.
These differences are many and great, as has been so thoroughly explained by Helmholtz. Let us for a moment waive the consideration of the difference produced by transmitting an object seen as a body on to a simple flat surface, and consider only the intensity of light and color. The intensity of light proceeding from the sun and reflected by objects is so infinitely greater than the strongest light reflected from a picture, that the proportion expressed in numbers is far beyond our comprehension. There is also so great a difference between the color of light, or of an illuminated object, and the pigments employed in painting, that it appears wonderful that the art of painting can, by the use of them, produce such perfect optical delusions. It can, of course, only produce optical delusions, never a real optical identity; that is to say, the image which is traced in our eye by real, objects is not identical with the image produced in our eye by the picture. This is best observed by changing the light. Whoever paints in London has but too frequent opportunities of observing this. A little more or less fog, the reflection of a cloud, illuminated by the sun, suffices to alter entirely the coloring of the picture, while the coloring of natural objects is not changed in the same manner.
Let us now return to our experiment with the yellow glass, and we shall find that it affects our eye very much in the same way as a yellow tint in the light, and therefore modifies natural objects in quite a different degree from pictures. If we continue the experiment for a considerable time, the difference becomes more and more essential. As I said before, the eye becomes dulled with regard to the yellow light, and thus sees Nature again in its normal coloring. The small quantity of blue light which is excluded by the yellow glass produces no sensible difference, as the difference is equalized by a diminution of sensibility with regard to yellow. In the picture, on the contrary, there is found in many places only as much blue as is perfectly absorbed by the yellow glass, and this, therefore, can never be perceived, however long we continue the experiment. Even for those parts of the picture which have been painted with the most intense blue the painter could produce, the quantity of blue excluded by the yellow glass will make itself felt, because its power is not so small with regard to pigments as with regard to the blue in Nature.
Imagine, now, that, in the course of years, one of the transparent media in the eye of a painter had gradually become yellowish, and that this yellow had by degrees considerably increased in intensity, and you will easily understand the influence it must exercise upon his work. He will see in Nature almost every thing correctly; but in his picture every thing will appear to him yellowish, and consequently he will paint it too blue. Does he not perceive this himself? Does he not believe it if told of it? Were this the case, it would be easy for him to correct the fault, since an artist can paint in a yellower or bluer tone, as he chooses. These are two questions which are easily answered by psychological experience. He does not perceive it himself, because he does not remember that he formerly saw in a different way. Our remembrance with regard to opinions, sensations, perceptions, etc., which have become gradually modified in the course of years—not by any external influence or sudden impression, but by a gradual change in our own physical or mental individuality—is almost nil.
He does not believe it—I would not say because an artist rarely recognizes what others tell him with regard to his works, but because with him, as with every one else, the impressions received through his own eye have a stronger power of conviction than any thing else. "Senen geht vor Sagen" ("Seeing is believing"), says the old adage.
We are almost always conscious of indistinct vision, be it in consequence of incorrect accommodation or insufficient power of sight, especially if it is not congenital, but has gradually appeared. But it is extremely difficult and in many cases impossible to convince those of their defect who suffer from incorrect vision as to form and color. They never become conscious of it themselves, even if it is not congenital, and the most enlightened and intelligent among them remain incredulous, or become even angry and offended, when told of it. Incorrect perception of form may, however, easily be demonstrated. If in consequence of astigmatism a square appears oblong to any one, he can measure the sides with a compass; or, what is more simple still, he can turn it so that the horizontal lines are changed into vertical ones, and vice versa, and his own sight will convince him of his error. It is more difficult to demonstrate whether a person sees colors correctly or not. Such glaring mistakes as those produced by color-blindness can be easily recognized, but faults produced by a diminished sensation of small differences in the shades of color can only be recognized as such by the fact that the majority of persons with normal vision declare them to be faults. Such, for instance, are deviations produced by an incorrect perception of pigments, which in painting makes itself felt by a constantly-recurring plus or minus of a single color in the whole picture. It may also show itself by small faults in the rendering of every color. In discussing this subject with artists, they at once declare these anomalies to represent a school, a taste, a manner, which may be arbitrarily changed. They most unwillingly concede that peculiarities of sight have any thing to do with it. It seems to me sometimes as if they considered it in a certain measure a degradation of their art that it should be influenced by an organ of sense, and not depend entirely upon free choice, intelligence, imagination, and talent.
Thus, to return to the point from which we started: if a painter whose lens becomes yellower begins to paint in a bluer tone, it is said that he has changed his style. The painter himself vehemently protests against this opinion; he thinks that he still paints in his old style, and that he has only improved the tone of his color. His earlier works appear to him too brown. To convince him of his error, it would be necessary to remove his lens suddenly. Then every thing would appear to him too blue, and his paintings far too blue. This is no hypothesis, but a fact. Patients on whom I have operated for cataract, very often spontaneously declared, immediately after the operation, that they saw every thing blue; in these cases I invariably found their crystalline lens to be of an intense yellow color. In pictures painted after the artists were considerably over sixty, the effect of the yellow lens can often be studied. To me their pictures have so characteristic a tone of color, that I could easily point them out while passing through a picture-gallery. As a striking example, I will only mention Mulready. It is generally stated that in his advanced age he painted too purple. A careful examination shows that the peculiarity of the colors of his later pictures is produced by an addition of blue. Thus, for instance, the shadows on the flesh are painted in pure ultramarine. Blue drapery he painted most unnaturally blue. Red of course became purple. If you look at these pictures through a yellow glass, all these faults disappear: what formerly appeared unnatural and displeasing is at once corrected; the violet color of the face shows a natural red; the blue shades become gray; the unnatural glaring blue of the drapery is softened. To make the correction perfect, the glass must not be of a bright gold-color, but rather of the color of pale sherry. It must be gradually darkened in accordance with the advancing age of the painter, and will then correspond exactly with the color of his lens. The best proof of the correctness of this statement is, that the yellow glass not only modifies the blue in Mulready's pictures, but gives truthfulness to all the other colors he employed. To make the proof complete, it would be necessary to show that by the aid of yellow glass we saw Mulready's pictures as he saw them with the naked eye; and this can be proved. It happens that Mulready has painted the same subject twice—first in 1836, when he was 50 years of age and his lens was in a normal state, and again in 1857, when he was 71, and the yellow discoloration had considerably advanced. The first picture was called "Brother and Sister; or Pinching the Ear;" the second was called "The Young Brother." In both pictures a girl, whose back only is visible, is carrying a little child. A young peasant, in a blue smock-frock, stands to the right and seizes the ear of the child. The background is formed by a cloudy sky and part of a tree. Both pictures are in the Kensington Museum. The identity of the composition makes the difference in the coloring more striking. If we look at the second picture through a yellow glass, the difference between the two almost entirely disappears, as the glass corrects the faults of the picture. The smock-frock of the boy no longer appears of that intense blue which we may see in a lady's silk dress, but never in the smock-frock of a peasant. It changes into the natural tint which we find in the first picture. The purple face of the boy also becomes of a natural color. The shades on the neck of the girl and the arms of the child, which are painted in a pure blue, look now gray, and so do the blue shadows in the clouds. The gray trunk of the tree becomes brown. Surprising is the effect upon the yellowish-green foliage, which, instead of appearing still more yellow, is restored to its natural color, and shows the same tone of color as the foliage in the earlier picture. This last fact is most important to prove the correctness of my supposition. My endeavor to explain it became the starting-point of a series of investigations to ascertain the optical qualities of the pigments used in painting, and thus to enable us to recognize them by optical contrivances, when the vision of the naked eye does not suffice to analyze the colors of a picture.
When I had the pleasure of showing this experiment with Mulready's pictures to Prof. Tyndall, he drew my attention to the fact that one single color, namely, the blue of the sky, was not affected by the yellow glass. The blue of the sky was almost the same in both pictures. I could not at once explain the cause of this, but I discovered it afterward. The fact is, it is impossible to change the sky-blue of the first picture so as to form a color that looks like it when seen through a yellow glass. If more white is added, the sky becomes too pale; if a deeper blue is used, it becomes too dark. Mulready was thus forced to content himself by giving to the sky in his later pictures the same color as in the earlier ones.
If we look at Mulready's earlier works through the same yellow glass, they lose considerably in beauty of coloring: the tone appears too weak; the shadows brown; the green, dark and colorless; we see them as he saw them, and understand why he became dissatisfied with them and changed his coloring.
It would be more important to correct the abnormal vision of the artist, than to make a normal eye see as the artist saw when his sight had suffered. This, unfortunately, can only be done to a certain extent.
If it is the dispersion of light which, as in Turner's case, alters the perception of Nature, it can be partly rectified by a kind of diaphragm with a small opening (Donders's sthenopeical spectacles).
In cases of astigmatism, the use of cylindrical glasses will completely correct the aspect of Nature, as well as of the picture. Certain anomalies in the sensation of color may also be counteracted to some extent by the use of colored glasses; for instance, by a blue glass, when the lens has become yellow, as in Mulready's case.
If science aims at proving that certain works of art offend against physiological laws, artists and art-critics ought not to think that, by being subjected to the material analysis of physiological investigation, that which is noble, beautiful, and purely intellectual, will be dragged into the dust. They ought, on the contrary, to make the results of these investigations their own. In this way art-critics will often obtain an explanation of the development of the artist, while artists will avoid the inward struggles and disappointments which often arise through the difference between their own perceptions and those of the majority of the public. Never will science be an impediment to the creations of genius.—Macmillan's Magazine.
- A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution on March 8, 1872.