By way of introduction to the following treatise, I venture to avail myself of the just observation in the commentary on the first book of that beautiful poem, "the English Garden; " but at the same time, I take the liberty of altering the words in favour of composition of landscape by invention, that being, in great measure, the subject of the present work.
The powers of art and invention, impart picturesque beauty, and strength of character to the works of an artist in landscape painting; as a noble and graceful deportment confers a winning aspect on the human frame. Composing landscapes by invention, is not the art of imitating individual nature; it is more; it is forming artificial representations of landscape on the general principles of nature, founded in unity of character, which is true simplicity;concentring in each individual composition the beauties, which judicious imitation would select from those which are dispersed in nature.
I am persuaded, that some instantaneous method of bringing forth the conception of an ideal subject fully to the view (though in the crudest manner) would promote original composition in painting; and that the want of some such method bas retarded the progress of it more than impotence of execution.
Hence proceeds the similarity, as weIl as weakness, of character, which may be seen in aIl compositions that are bad, or indifferently good: they may be also owing more particularly to the following causes;
1. To the deficiency of a stock of ideas originally laid up in the mind, from which might be selected such as suit any particular occasion;
2. To an incapacity of distinguishing and connecting ideas so treasured up ;
3. To a want of facility, or quickness, in execution; so that the composition, how perfect soever in conception, grows faint and dies away before the band of the artist can fix it upon the parer, or canvas.
To one or more of these causes may be imputed that want of nature and originality, which is visible in many productions.
How far the incapacity of combining our ideas with readiness and propriety in the works of art, may arise from neglecting to exercise the invention, or from not duely cultivating the taste and judgment, cannot perhaps be easily determined : but it cannot be doubted, that too much rime is spent in copying the works of others, which tends to weaken the powers of invention; and I scruple not to affirm, that too much time may be employed in copying the landscapes of nature herself.
I here find myself tempted to communicate an accident that gave rise to themethod now proposed of assisting the imagination in landscape composition, which I have constandy pursued, as well in my private studies as in the course of my teaching, ever since ; and which I now lay before the public, after a full proof of its utility, from many years experience.
Reflecting one day in company with a pupil of great natural capacity, on original composition of landscape, in contradistinction to copying, I lamented the want of a mechanical method sufficiendy expeditious and extensive todraw forth the ideas of an ingenious mind disposed to the art of designing. At this instant happening to have a piece of soiled paper under my band, and casting my eyes on it slighdy, I sketched something like a landscape on it, with a pencil, in order to catch some hint which might be improved into a rule. The stains, though extremely faint, appeared upon revisal to have influenced me, insensibly, in expressing the general appearance of a landscape.
This circumstance was sufficiendy striking: I mixed a tint with ink and water, just strong enough to mark the paper; and having hastily made some rude forms with it, (which, when dry, seemed as if they would answer the Saille purpose to which I had applied the accidental stains of the 'forementioned piece of paper) I laid it, together with a few short hints of my intention, before the pupil, who instandy improved the blot, as it may be called, into an intelligible sketch, and from that time made such progress in composition, as fully answered my most sanguine expectations from the experiment. After a long rime making these hints for composition with light ink, the method was improved by making them with black ink ; and the sketches from these are produced by tracing them on transparent paper.
Alexander Cozens, A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Composition of Landscape, 1785