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The Model Of Sorrows
by [?]



I cannot pretend that my ambition to paint the Man of Sorrows had any religious inspiration, though I fear my dear old dad at the Parsonage at first took it as a sign of awakening grace. And yet, as an artist, I have always been loath to draw a line between the spiritual and the beautiful; for I have ever held that the beautiful has in it the same infinite element as forms the essence of religion. But I cannot explain very intelligibly what I mean, for my brush is the only instrument through which I can speak. And if I am here paradoxically proposing to use my pen to explain what my brush failed to make clear, it is because the criticism with which my picture of the Man of Sorrows has been assailed drives me to this attempt at verbal elucidation. My picture, let us suppose, is half-articulate; perhaps my pen can manage to say the other half, especially as this other half mainly consists of things told me and things seen.

And in the first place, let me explain that the conception of the picture which now hangs in its gilded frame is far from the conception with which I started–was, in fact, the ultimate stage of an evolution–for I began with nothing deeper in my mind than to image a realistic Christ, the Christ who sat in the synagogue of Jerusalem, or walked about the shores of Galilee. As a painter in love with the modern, it seemed to me that, despite the innumerable representations of Him by the masters of all nations, few, if any, had sought their inspiration in reality. Each nation had unconsciously given Him its own national type, and though there was a subtle truth in this, for what each nation worshipped was truly the God made over again in its own highest image, this was not the truth after which I was seeking.

I started by rejecting the blonde, beardless type which Da Vinci and others have imposed upon the world, for Christ, to begin with, must be a Jew. And even when, in the course of my researches for a Jewish model, I became aware that there were blonde types, too, these seemed to me essentially Teutonic. A characteristic of the Oriental face, as I figured it, was a sombre majesty, as of the rabbis of Rembrandt, the very antithesis of the ruddy gods of Walhalla. The characteristic Jewish face must suggest more of the Arab than of the Goth.

I do not know if the lay reader understands how momentous to the artist is his model, how dependent he is on the accident of finding his creation already anticipated, or at least shadowed forth, in Nature. To me, as a realist, it was particularly necessary to find in Nature the original, without which no artist can ever produce those subtle nuances which give the full sense of life. After which, if I say, that my aim is not to copy, but to interpret and transfigure, I suppose I shall again seem to be self-contradictory. But that, again, must be put down to my fumbling pen-strokes.

Perhaps I ought to have gone to Palestine in search of the ideal model, but then my father’s failing health kept me within a brief railway run of the Parsonage. Besides, I understood that the dispersion of the Jews everywhere made it possible to find Jewish types anywhere, and especially in London, to which flowed all the streams of the Exile. But long days of hunting in the Jewish quarter left me despairing. I could find types of all the Apostles, but never of the Master.

Running down one week-end to Brighton to recuperate, I joined the Church Parade on the lawns. It was a sunny morning in early November, and I admired the three great even stretches of grass, sea, and sky, making up a picture that was unspoiled even by the stuccoed boarding-houses. The parasols fluttered amid the vast crowd of promenaders like a swarm of brilliant butterflies. I noted with amusement that the Church Parade was guarded by beadles from the intrusion of the ill-dressed, and the spectacle of over-dressed Jews paradoxically partaking in it reminded me of the object of my search. In vain my eye roved among these; their figures were strangely lacking in the dignity and beauty which I had found among the poorest. Suddenly I came upon a sight that made my heart leap. There, squatting oddly enough on the pavement-curb of a street opposite the lawns, sat a frowsy, gaberdined Jew. Vividly set between the tiny green cockle-shell hat on his head and the long uncombed black beard was the face of my desire. The head was bowed towards the earth; it did not even turn towards the gay crowd, as if the mere spectacle was beadle-barred. I was about to accost this strange creature who sat there so immovably, when a venerable Royal Academician who resides at Hove came towards me with hearty hand outstretched, and bore me along in the stream of his conversation and geniality. I looked back yearningly; it was as if the Academy was dragging me away from true Art.