The Thickest Painters in London.
The attitude towards criticism of the painter, the painter pure from any taint of the pen, is a comedy of unending entertainment. I was pure myself once, in the last century, and the reign before last. I can remember, even now, when we thought that opinions in print on our paintings had the most enormous importance. We may have laughed at George Moore’s French. I heard a lady say about Steinlen the other day that he was “awfully Parisian,” though born a Swiss. We knew that George Moore, though “awfully Parisian,” printed “Marchand de vins” with an s. We read in one of his articles his regret that the expression “l’addition” had ousted “la note.” “I shall probably be the last man,” he sighed, “who will ask ‘pour la note.’ ” He was not only the last but the first! We used to giggle at his technical gaffes. Whistler, he announced, had painted the shadows in Miss Alexander’s skirt by lifting the white paint off with a dry brush, and exposing the black ground of the canvas. He talked of people using Naples yellow years after it had been banned from every living palette. He announced in the “Speaker” that one of the best authenticated canvases of Constable’s, of Salisbury Cathedral, which was exhibited at the Old Masters, was not genuine. I had the pleasure of introducing him to Sir Frederick Burton before the same picture – unfortunately after his article in the “Speaker” was in print! But none of these things prevented the news flying round the Hogarth Club that Moore liked, or didn’t like, one of our pictures. Steer and I would tramp gravely from Addison Road to the Dudley Gallery to see what George Moore had said in the album of Press-cuttings. And I believe we were genuinely elated or depressed according. The painter-pure retains, unaffected by the deaths of kings, and the passing of empires, his profound belief in the impregnable rock of Romeike. I have seen Whistler spend mornings of precious daylight showing Nocturne after Nocturne to the football correspondent of a Fulham local paper. He would tolerate anything from people who he thought were going to write “nicely” about him, even their company, and, if they were artists, astounding as it may sound, their work.
“We’ll do just the same as we did before!
Of course if The New Age were a magazine which illustrated its critical articles with reproductions of the painters’ pictures, a certain reserve would be imposed. The Editor might give me a hint that nothing was to be said about impasto as Mr. Gilman and Mr. Ginner were sensitive on the point. But
Only recently the Art-world has been convulsed by a regrettable incident in a matter of this kind. A distinguished collector of my acquaintance, naturally desiring to be properly classed, is said to have accepted with pleasure the proposition of the editor of an art magazine to permit his collection to be photographed, and an article to be written about it. In such cases it is generally understood that proofs of the article are to be submitted to the collector, so that any expressions not purely laudatory may be struck out. As those familiar with the pitiless engines of publicity know, these proofs, by a lamentable and deeply deplored oversight, do not always reach the collector before the magazine is on the bookstalls. Now, on the supposition that, in defiance of the etiquette of tame-criticism, any expression not entirely laudatory slips in, we have a pretty quarrel, which will repeat itself as long as writers consent to do the letterpress round illustrations furnished by artists, or worse, by collectors. The artists will maintain that it was the collector’s duty to see that the reproductions of their pictures were garlanded with nothing but praise. The collector will probably maintain that the artists should not have sold him pictures about which it was possible for the most severe critic to write anything but ecstatic praise. The editor will, unless the collector takes out an injunction, have filled several pages of his magazine franco with quite nice illustrations, which is his business, and the artists will reflect with bitterness that not even in the sanctuary of a private house are their works safe from these infernal critics, who, damn ’em, will persist in going on criticising, just as the artists will persist in going on painting.
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert