ASSOCIATIONS are so inseparable from our conceptions of nature and art that we are unconsciously biased, and it is difficult to gain any fresh view of either. The key to this difficulty is a consistent following up of some particular truth or beauty observed, and this can only be done, as Samuel Smiles says, by " perseverance, knowledge, and ability diligently cultivated." Some aspects and arrangements of nature I cannot like, nor can I see them in any other way than the one I dislike. I dislike them simply because they recall certain types of pictures that I consider bad. The very untruths or want of sympathy with nature in these pictures (such as water being represented by straight horizontal lines, or rank autumn foliage against a leaden blue-black cloud) crowd upon me and even seem to have some foundation of fact ; though to think that would be to libel nature. On the other hand, we have had our senses awakened to all the good and fine things in nature by the good and great paintings of the past and present. Even the little foibles of convention are often delightful. I can never see a picture of Oaks without a sneaking wish that I may find in it the little old woman with the red shawl. If she is not there, I wonder how the painter resisted the temptation and left her out. The concession to custom in such little touches seems the remaining link with childhood--when we repeated meaningless rhymes and drew houses with the chimney in the centre of the roof because it was the custom so to do. Any conscious straining for originality, or any distortion of nature for the purpose of being thought a clever young person, or any view adopted except a sincerely personal one--though it may for the moment gain some kudos or cash--will eventually ruin any real artistic instincts and what they should lead to.
But to return to our trees, is it not well to let associations guide our judgment in the matter of things unusual I have seen Willows high up on a mountain side--and there was no reason why they should not be there, as the place was waterlogged ; still, association connects Willows with the lush meadowland among Alders and Poplars growing with King-cups, Meadow-sweet, and the Reeds of the river-side ; among the boulders of a Yorkshire moor surrounded by Ling they half lost their power to please. The Wellingtonias, Deodars, and " Monkey-puzzlers " planted round new houses seem to me a blot on the landscape among the Beeches and Oaks--things to leave out ; nor would I, if I were a poet, compose a rhapsody on a Stone Pine overhanging a duck pond, but I might do so on a Willow overhanging a ditch. Yet one sees a constant disregard of association--sketches of cornfields with a neatly painted Spruce Fir strayed into the hedgerow, Alders on dry lands, and Larches on wet ones. I would rather have a picture of a Lavender bed with the flicker of butterflies and bees hovering over it--that, at least, would recall the hum of insects and the scent and warmth of a summer's day. Care without knowledge of nature may easily be the cause of lifelessness in a drawing, so that fact is substituted for the essence of life; movement, sound, and scent in as far as these can be suggested by paint. Misdirected energy may give an elaboration of leaves clear and sharp, without the suggestion of movement, and so the flicker and frolic of the pattering Aspen leaves--their chief charm--be lost. I do not think one can suggest the plaintive song of a Fir wood ; but the sway of the Lombardy Poplar or the rush of Ash foliage before the storm, and the dash of silver on Willows, Whitebeam, and Poplars, stirred by the wind, can be given. Trees, ever responsive to the moods of nature, take their proper place in the scheme. When grown on the coast they often look as though they had been caught in a gale and transfixed in the act of movement ; their heads are bent, boughs stream horizontally to the lee-side, and those on the windward side are bent back and wrapped round the trunk--a permanent record of a passing effect.
Association enables us often to like forms that are unbeautiful, and we become so accustomed to the effects of cultivation on certain trees that their natural habit is not familiar. Hedgerow Elms shorn of their lower branches, pollarded Willows, copses of Sweet Chestnut, Osier beds and the Box hedges of our gardens--all seem right in their place. Many trees, whose grotesque trunks we now admire, such as the Beeches of Epping, were formerly pollarded, and have been allowed to grow their boughs in later life after continual lopping had given them trunks of quite abnormal size. The topiary art of the old gardeners--who forced their Box and Yew trees to resemble a peacock, an urn, or a pilaster--associated as it is with grottos, mazes, artificial waterfalls, and lakes, the whole bordered by living walls of evergreens, gives us a garden of pleasure in which only modern dress is an anachronism. Imagine, however, one of the Box effigies in a Beech wood ! To me this would be a parallel to that Spruce in the cornfields. Small matters are of moment in the suggestion of surroundings : a path I travel is bordered by Alder-Buckthorns ; and a sketch of them clustered with pale unripe berries brings back the sultry heat and the reflected glare of the orange
STUDY IN OILS By VICAT COLE, R, A.
sandstone forming the eaves of the shelving sides ; it requires no imagination to see again the quivering white heat spread over the tableland and to hear the popping of the gorse pods and the rustle of a snake. I wish I could stretch a point in veracity, and say that all representations recall the scents connected with the object ; if that were so, we should renew indoors the sweet balsam scent of the Poplar buds and leaves,
ILLUS. 52. POLLARD WILLOW
and the subtle perfume of the young Beech leaves, the fragrance of Holly and Hawthorn flowers and honey-scented Lime, the resinous sweetness of the Pine Woods and the pleasant but acrid scent of Walnut leaves. The aroma of autumn would come with a carpet of fallen leaves, and the freshness of spring in unfolding buds. But if this were so, who would dare to paint the blossom of Elderberry or Rowan, or the -white stars of the Garlic !
If the connection of scents is outside the painter's province, there is still the association of seasons with particular trees. The silver buds and golden flowers of the Sallow (Illus. 53) and the cold white Blackthorn--forerunners of spring--are followed by the spring harmony, in which Cherry (Illus. 58), Crab Apple (Illus. 59), Wild Pear, and Plum (Illus. 54) contribute their share. The crimson and orange of the Cherry leaves, the downy silvered buds of the grey Poplar and Whitebeam, with the waxen flowers of Larch, cannot be passed by unnoticed as we watch expectant for the pink of the unfolding oak leaves.
The connection between places and trees has often come about by the industries established. The osier beds of Berkshire, or the copses of Spanish Chestnut in Sussex, are now familiar features of certain districts --though the hoopers' craft is passing into neglect. They say the Yews in the churchyards were planted as a reserve for the making of archery bows, and we know that the Larch forests of Scotland were planted for the sake of the long tough timber (as recently as 1700). Association has been utilised more in the past for picture-making than is now the custom. Turner's pictures did not stop at being merely beautiful harmonies of tone, colour, and line, but contained in addition all the incidents and accidental life connected with the locality. To his mind, Greenwich was no Greenwich without the holiday-makers, and Chatham must have her soldiers ; the way they make a stone wall in Yorkshire or a fence in Surrey interested him and was part of the place ; we cannot conceive him satisfied with a picture of trees which might be grown anywhere, but were not those of the special district. Each district for him was clothed in a particular verdure, and had its idiosyncrasies ; and the people there lived a life of their own and wore a distinguishing dress. I am afraid we sometimes recognise in pictures of English scenery Millet's Barbizon peasants who must have strayed into Essex, and dainty London models carrying the milk, or little Dutch figures on the bridges of English canals. Every place is permeated with its own atmosphere literally and indirectly. The blue of the distant hills in Surrey is not the blue of the Scots mountains. Yorkshire moors in outlined do not resemble the South Downs; the Alders in Wharfedale are distinct in character from the Alders by the Mole, and you need not wait to hear the countryman speak ; his figure, gait, dress, and consequence all tell of the land he toils on ; he is a literal son of the soil, moulded by his labour on it, and showing the inheritance of generations bred to a similar task. Critics tell us that the painters of the mid- Victorian period were wrong in their assiduity in the selection of the picturesque. In their day each object had its type of beauty--every detail was the best of its kind--a fence, a hedge, a gate were things in
Plate XLVIII - STUDY IN OILS BY R.V.C. OF TREES SEEN AGAINST THE SUN
ILLUS. 55, CATKINS OF THE HORNBEAM
ILLUS. 56. UNFOLDING FLOWERS AND LEAVES OF THE SYCAMORE
ILLUS. 57. OPENING FLOWER BUDS OE A MAPLE
ILLUS. 58. BOUGH OF CHERRY
ILLUS. 59. FLOWERS OF THE CRAB APPLE TREE
themselves beautiful to look at and diligently sought for and culled from the particular district. Perhaps overselection in objects, as over- selection in colour or line, may from its fastidiousness approach tameness ; but we can forgive rather easily errors of scruple that made an old piece of fencing too perfect. It seems to me more difficult to ally ourselves with those who say a white painted railing would do equally well, and add, " and it was there," as if art and the camera had gone into partnership.