9 February 2021

The Man Whom I Would Most Envy

Charles Hare Plunkett, pseudonym of A. C. Benson, "The Landscape Painter," The Letters of One; A Study in Limitations (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 133-135:

He showed me a lot of charming sketches and pictures, and told me frankly that he could not sell them. “But my tastes are very simple, and I can get along.” I can’t tell you what a refreshment it was to talk to a man who lives so joyfully and serenely in his art. I tried to penetrate his secret, but he did not seem to have any. I have always thought that the landscape-painter is on the whole the man whom I would most envy, even more than the musician. He lives face to face with nature in all its moods. He is much in the open air; his mind is free to meditate. I said to him, when he was describing the sort of life he led, “But what is your aim, your object, in all this?” “I don’t know that I ever asked myself the question,” he said, with his great quiet smile; “I like the sight of beautiful things; I like trying to render them. I suppose one ought to have a sense of artistic vocation, but I have never had any doubt as to what I wanted to do. I try not to get mannerised; I vary my subjects. I try to see what is there, and to paint it.” “But,” I said, “there is a great deal more than that in your pictures; there is sense of the place, the scene, the hour, the spirit of the thing, selected from a thousand effects, and given permanence; and then there is the feeling of something great and tender and hopeful behind it all, the secret of the sunset and the wind, the moorland and the lake.” He mused a little, and then he said, “Well, if you see that in my pictures — and I am glad you do — it is not because I put it there, but because it is there, and because I have seen it and rendered it; it is like music to me, the motif of the scene, moving through harmonies of colour and line. Of course it is very baffling sometimes, because the sun will come and transpose the key, so to speak, of your picture; and then one has to wait. But I am no good,” he said, “at explaining all this; it is very vague to me. I seem only content to look and record.” 


Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), Le soir