The moon and sixpence

Chapter I

I confess that when first I made acquaintance with Charles
Strickland I never for a moment discerned that there was in
him anything out of the ordinary. Yet now few will be found
to deny his greatness. I do not speak of that greatness which
is achieved by the fortunate politician or the successful
soldier; that is a quality which belongs to the place he
occupies rather than to the man; and a change of circumstances
reduces it to very discreet proportions. The Prime Minister
out of office is seen, too often, to have been but a pompous
rhetorician, and the General without an army is but the tame
hero of a market town. The greatness of Charles Strickland
was authentic. It may be that you do not like his art, but at
all events you can hardly refuse it the tribute of your
interest. He disturbs and arrests. The time has passed when
he was an object of ridicule, and it is no longer a mark of
eccentricity to defend or of perversity to extol him.
His faults are accepted as the necessary complement to his merits.
It is still possible to discuss his place in art, and the
adulation of his admirers is perhaps no less capricious than
the disparagement of his detractors; but one thing can never
be doubtful, and that is that he had genius. To my mind the
most interesting thing in art is the personality of the
artist; and if that is singular, I am willing to excuse a
thousand faults. I suppose Velasquez was a better painter
than El Greco, but custom stales one's admiration for him:
the Cretan, sensual and tragic, proffers the mystery of his
soul like a standing sacrifice. The artist, painter, poet, or
musician, by his decoration, sublime or beautiful, satisfies
the aesthetic sense; but that is akin to the sexual instinct,
and shares its barbarity: he lays before you also the greater
gift of himself. To pursue his secret has something of the
fascination of a detective story. It is a riddle which shares
with the universe the merit of having no answer. The most
insignificant of Strickland's works suggests a personality
which is strange, tormented, and complex; and it is this
surely which prevents even those who do not like his pictures
from being indifferent to them; it is this which has excited
so curious an interest in his life and character.

It was not till four years after Strickland's death that
Maurice Huret wrote that article in the
which rescued the unknown painter from oblivion and blazed the
trail which succeeding writers, with more or less docility,
have followed. For a long time no critic has enjoyed in
France a more incontestable authority, and it was impossible
not to be impressed by the claims he made; they seemed
extravagant; but later judgments have confirmed his estimate,
and the reputation of Charles Strickland is now firmly
established on the lines which he laid down. The rise of this
reputation is one of the most romantic incidents in the
history of art. But I do not propose to deal with Charles
Strickland's work except in so far as it touches upon
his character. I cannot agree with the painters who claim
superciliously that the layman can understand nothing of
painting, and that he can best show his appreciation of their
works by silence and a cheque-book. It is a grotesque
misapprehension which sees in art no more than a craft
comprehensible perfectly only to the craftsman: art is a
manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a language that
all may understand. But I will allow that the critic who has