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William gilpin essay on picturesque beauty

There's a connection still, and Gilpin does not always emphasize it; but he does recognize that if you take a nice bit of lawn and throw off its symmetry with trees and rocks, you get the picturesque not by eliminating the beauty of the lawn but by making it less smooth, taking away only such elegance as is required to leave a ruggedness and wildness that is interesting to the eye. Or, to use another example that Gilpin uses, suppose you sit for a picture. You're very neat and tidy, nicely combed. But the painter may well look at you and then muss your hair up a bit so that you don't look so boring in the frame.

picturesque and sublime

And if you go to portrait museum, the best portraits are not those of smooth faces, however beautiful, but those that are, as we say, full of character: wrinkled faces, shaggy beards, deepset eyes. The best human faces and forms are those that manage to balance both: somehow smooth, elegant, beautiful while at the same time being rough, rugged, picturesque.

Likewise, when someone like Virgil, who perhaps provides the best literary examples of what Gilpin has in mind, describes something, he often throws something out of order or symmetry in order to make it more striking. Venus does not merely have beautiful hair; it streams in the wind. Hair that just hangs there may be beautiful; but even the hair of the Goddess of Love is only striking when it is doing something 'rough' or 'rugged'. The picturesque, then, is roughness or ruggedness that is agreeable when illustrated in drawing or painting.

The world, to the extent that it is picturesque, is not quiescent, but alive, forceful, for the eye. The painter can paint the non-picturesque, of course, but, to use the example Gilpin uses, if you have a painter paint your beautiful Arabian steed, you should rest satisfied with that and not complain that the painter would much rather paint your strikingly rugged cart-horse because he could "give the graces of his art more forcibly" to it TE Gilpin links this preference to the very activity of drawing or painting: the rugged line is a line that is itself made boldly, freely; it is striking in part because the artist strikes out with it.

The best pencil sketches consist of lines that are what Gilpin calls free and bold. A line is free if it has the appearance of being unconstrained e. The suggestive line unhesitatingly drawn: this is half of the art of the pencil sketch in itself. Thus one reason for the attraction of roughness is that it is suitable to the execution of the work.

Execution is not the only contributing factor, however. Another reason roughness is important to the picture is composition. In the Essay on Prints, Gilpin had defined composition in the strict sense as "the art of grouping figures, and combining the parts of a picture" EPr xi. The smoother things are, however, the less composition you have.

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A painting of a blank wall doesn't involve any combination at all. By figures I mean moving objects, as waggons, and boats, as well as cattle, and men.


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Every diftant horizon promifes fomething new ; and with this pleafing expectation we follow nature through all her walks. We purfue her from hill to dale ; and hunt after thofe various beauties with which ihe every where abounds. But is it therefore a more pleasing picture? I fear not. Leave Reynolds to himself, and he will make it picturesque: he will throw the hair dishevelled about your shoulders. It was his usual practice in all his portraits. In his figure of Ascanius, we have the fusos crines; and in his portrait of Venus, which is highly finished in every part, the artist has given her hair, — diffundere ventis.

That lovely face of youth smiling with all it's sweet, dimpling charms, how attractive is it in life! It is one of those objects, that please, as many do, both in nature, and on canvas. What is it, which gives that dignity of character; that force of expression; those lines of wisdom, and experience; that energetic meaning, so far beyond the rosy hue, or even the bewitching smile of youth?

What is it, but the forehead furrowed with wrinkles? As an object of the mixed kind, partaking both of the beautiful, and the picturesque, we admire the human figure also. It is true, we are better pleased with the usual representations we meet with of the human form in a quiescent state, than in an agitated one: but this is merely owing to our seldom seeing it naturally represented in strong action.

Even among the best masters we see little knowledge of anatomy. One will inflate the muscles violently to produce some trifling effect: another will scarce swell them in the production of a laboured one. The eye soon learns to see a defect, tho unable to remedy it. But when the anatomy is perfectly just, the human body will always be more picturesque in action, than at rest.

Who does not admire the Laocoon more than the Antinous? We admire him also in representation.

For the truth of this we may examine Berghem's pictures: we may examine the smart touch of Rosa of Tivoli. Suggestions of this kind are ungrateful. The art of painting allows you all you wish.

Catalog Record: Three essays : on picturesque beauty, on | HathiTrust Digital Library

Be then satisfied. The art of painting has given you what you wanted. It is no injury to the beauty of your Arabian, if the painter think he could have given the graces of his art more forcibly to your cart-horse. Is the smart touch of a pencil the grand desideratum of painting?


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  5. I should not vindicate him, if he did. At the same time, a free execution is so very fascinating a part of painting, that we need not wonder, if the artist lay a great stress upon it. However this is not the whole of the matter. A free, bold touch is in itself pleasing. In landscape universally the rougher objects are admired; which give the freest scope to execution. If the pencil be timid, or hesitating, little beauty results. The execution then only is pleasing, when the hand firm, and yet decisive, freely touches the characteristic parts of each object.

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    At the same time, if some care, and pains be not bestowed on the execution, your slovenliness disgusts, as much. It is not however merely for the sake of his execution, that the artist values a rough object. He finds it in many other respects accommodated to his art. In the first place, his composition requires it.

    If the history-painter threw all his draperies smooth over his figures, his groups, and combinations would be very awkward. And in landscape-painting smooth objects would produce no composition at all. In a mountain-scene what composition could arise from the corner of a smooth knoll coming forward on one side, intersected by a smooth knoll on the other; with a smooth plain perhaps in the middle, and a smooth mountain in the distance.

    The very idea is disgusting. Both these he finds in rough objects; and neither of them in smooth. Variety indeed, in some degree, he may find in the outline of a smooth object: but by no means enough to satisfy the eye, without including the surface also. From rough objects also he seeks the effect of light and shade, which they are as well disposed to produce, as they are the beauty of composition.

    One uniform light, or one uniform shade produces no effect. What the painter calls richness on a surface, is only a variety of little parts; on which the light shining, shews all it's small inequalities, and roughnesses; and in the painter's language, inriches it. A smooth surface has no such prominences. In colouring also, rough objects give the painter another advantage. Smooth bodies are commonly as uniform in their colour, as they are in their surface.

    In glossy objects, tho smooth, the colouring may sometimes vary.

    An Essay upon Prints

    In general however it is otherwise; in the objects of landscape, particularly. The smooth side of a hill is generally of one uniform colour; while the fractured rock presents it's grey surface, adorned with patches of greensward running down it's guttered sides; and the broken ground is every where varied with an okery tint, a grey gravel, or a leaden-coloured clay: so that in fact the rich colours of the ground arise generally from it's broken surface. From such reasoning then we infer, that it is not merely for the sake of his execution, that the painter prefers rough objects to smooth.