The Necessity of the Study of Perspective to Painters, Sculptors, and Architects
LEONARDO DA VINCI tells us in his celebrated Treatise on Painting that the young artist should first of all learn perspective, that is to say, he should first of all learn that he has to depict on a flat surface objects which are in relief or distant one from the other; for this is the simple art of painting. Objects appear smaller at a distance than near to us, so by drawing them thus we give depth to our canvas. The outline of a ball is a mere flat circle, but with proper shading we make it appear round, and this is the perspective of light and shade.
‘The next thing to be considered is the effect of the atmosphere and light. If two figures are in the same coloured dress, and are standing one behind the other, then they should be of slightly different tone, so as to separate them. And in like manner, according to the distance of the mountains in a landscape and the greater or less density of the air, so do we depict space between them, not only making them smaller in outline, but less distinct.’
Sir Edwin Landseer used to say that in looking at a figure in a picture he liked to feel that he could walk round it, and this exactly expresses the impression that the true art of painting should make upon the spectator.
There is another observation of Leonardo’s that it is well I should here transcribe; he says: ‘Many are desirous of learning to draw, and are very fond of it, who are notwithstanding void of a proper disposition for it. This may be known by their want of perseverance; like boys who draw everything in a hurry, never finishing or shadowing.’ This shows they do not care for their work, and all instruction is thrown away upon them. At the present time there is too much of this ‘everything in a hurry’, and beginning in this way leads only to failure and disappointment. These observations apply equally to perspective as to drawing and painting.
Unfortunately, this study is too often neglected by our painters, some of them even complacently confessing their ignorance of it; while the ordinary student either turns from it with distaste, or only endures going through it with a view to passing an examination, little thinking of what value it will be to him in working out his pictures. Whether the manner of teaching perspective is the cause of this dislike for it, I cannot say; but certainly most of our English books on the subject are anything but attractive.
All the great masters of painting have also been masters of perspective, for they knew that without it, it would be impossible to carry out their grand compositions. In many cases they were even inspired by it in choosing their subjects. When one looks at those sunny interiors, those corridors and courtyards by De Hooghe, with their figures far off and near, one feels that their charm consists greatly in their perspective, as well as in their light and tone and colour…