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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Blanc’s Début as Art Critic
By Charles Blanc (1813–1882)
 
From ‘Contemporary Artists’

IN those days things happened just as they do now; the criticism is almost invariably the work of beginners. A youth who has acquired a smattering of learning, who has caught up the slang of the studios, and pretends to have a system or to defend a paradox, is chosen to write an account of the Salon. I was that youth, that novice. And after all, how become a workman unless you work? how become expert if you do not study, recognize your mistakes and repair them? Beneath our mistakes truth lies hidden.  1
  So I arrived at Brussels to exercise the trade of critic, and found myself in the presence of two men who were then making a brilliant début as painters: De Keyser and Henri Leys. I hope I shall be forgiven if I reproduce my criticism of the latter’s ‘Massacre of the Magistrates of Louvain.’
          “Imagine to yourself a small public square, such as might have existed in Louvain in the fourteenth century; this square filled with angry people demanding satisfaction for the death of their chief, Gautier de Lendes, assassinated by the nobles; the approach to the palace of justice crowded with men armed to the teeth; at the top of the stairs the city magistrates on their way to execution, some as calm as if about to administer justice, others bewailing that the people know not what they do; peasants awaiting them at the foot of the stairs, dagger in hand, a smile upon their lips; here and there fainting women, dead bodies being stripped, dying men being tortured, and an inextricable confusion of monks, burghers, soldiers, children and horses. Then if you fancy this scene painted with the warmth and impetuosity of a Tintoretto, or as Hugo would have written it, you will have an idea of Leys’s picture. It may not be prudent to trust an enthusiastic criticism; but my opinion is shared by every one. I may be rash in praising a young man whose wings may melt in the sun; but when, as is the case with M. Leys, the artist possesses exact knowledge of the times and manners, when he has verve, dash, and deep feeling, he needs only to moderate ardor by reflection, and to ripen inspiration by study, in order to become great.”
  2
  One must admit that the above was not a bad beginning for an apprentice-connoisseur, and that I was fortunate in praising an unknown artist destined to make a great reputation…. There is something more real than reality in what passes in the soul of a great artist!  3
 
 
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