MORE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF VALUES

Excerpt from French Art: Classic and Contemporary Painting and Sculpture by W. C. Brownell, 1901. Download and read the book for free from the University of California Archive, http://archive.org/details/frenchartclassic00browrich

Manet‘s great distinction is to have discovered that the sense of reality is achieved with a thousand-fold greater intensity by getting as near as possible to the actual, rather than resting content with the relative, value of every detail. Every one who has painted since Manet has either followed him in this effort or else has appeared jejune (a.k.a. simplistic, superficial, dry, uninteresting).

Take as an illustration of the contrary practice such a masterpiece as Gerome’s “Eminence Grise.” In this picture, skilfully and satisfactorily composed, the relative values of all the colors are admirably, even beautifully, observed. The correspondence of the gamut of values to that of the light and dark scale of such an actual scene is perfect. Before Manet, one could have said that this is all that is required and the best that can be secured, arguing that exact imitation of local tints and general tone is impossible, owing to the difference between nature’s highest light and lowest dark, and the potentialities of the palette. In other words, one might have said that inasmuch as you can squeeze absolute white and absolute black out of no tubes, the thing to do is first to determine the scale of your picture and then make every note in it bear the same relation to every other that the corresponding note in nature bears to its fellows in its own corresponding but different scale.”

GeromeEmeninenceGrise1873

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