The first art history professor I ever had once told me that all art historians are, at heart, frustrated artists: those with the eye, but not (shall we say) the hand, required to make art.
It was true of him (bless him), and it’s certainly true of me—but never let it be said of Sir Edward John Poynter. The above is his In a Garden, from 1891.
Poynter tells us, in his own Ten Lectures on Art, that “[t]he qualities of mind required to produce a work of art are two—the power of design, and the power of imitation.”
His power of imitation is self-evident; his work is nearly always striking in its verisimilitude, and the above is no exception.
His power of design, though, is better for its very subtlety. There is something unfocused in the composition of this painting that almost seems like a photograph—like someone trying to capture as much as he can of the scene he sees, rather than trying to convey as specifically as he can the scene he imagines.
Yet it is also clearly carefully composed; look, for example, at the subtle triangle of red formed by the robin, the potted plant, and the woman’s fan. It pulls focus to the bottom, and to the figure—but so very gently so that it hardly seems deliberate.