The Garden Guide

Book: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, 1795
Chapter: Criticism of Repton's before and after drawings


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But when, as is not unfrequently the case, it is desirable to reduce the design within still smaller limits, the eye will not be able or willing to assume a correct distance. No one ever approaches his eye within four inches of the paper; and yet, if the engraving be only four inches in diameter, this is the utmost allowable distance. Consequently, if an engraving of this size be terminated by a decided edge, this edge will cut sharply and painfully on the sight, and will make the whole drawing look as if it were pasted on the paper, or cut out of it; there will be a sense of confinement, and regularity, and parallelism, totally destructive of the good qualities of the design; and, instead of being delighted by the beauty of its studied lines, we shall be tormented by an omnipresence of right angles and straight edges. And that this is actually the case any one may convince himself by five minutes' careful observation. This evil ought to be avoided with the greatest care; it is of no slight influence, for the best and most delicate engraving would be utterly spoiled by the error. Now there is only one mode by which such a result is avoidable, and it has been long employed in obedience to the natural instinct, which is as true as any scientific principle, the introduction, namely, of the vignette, by whose indeterminate edge the eye is made to feel that it is a part of a picture, not a perfect one, which it is contemplating. All harshness is thus avoided; and we feel as if we might see more if we chose, beyond the dreamy and undecided limit, but have no desire to move the eye from its indicated place of rest. The vignette, strictly speaking, is the representation of that part of a large picture which the eye would regard with particular interest; and, as in this case, those bits of painting which are distinguished by colour, or brilliancy, or shade, would, of necessity, draw the eye more away from the central point, in one place than in another, we are at liberty to give any form we choose to the fragment, and introduce that graceful variety which enables the artist to give the ethereal spirit and the changeful character by which a good vignette is distinguished.