(The follwing text is taken directly from the publication titled above)
There is always a higher degree of interest in the work of an artist who looks at nature in the individual manner than in the productions, however skilful they may be, of a man who follows the traditions of a school and allows himself to be guided by set conventions rather than by his personal impressions. The individual observer, if he sees acutely and is sincerly anxious to record intelligently what he sees, adds something worth possessing to the sum total of the art of the country in which he lives.
The tradition lover, on the other hand, does little enough for art. At best he simply repeats ingeniously and effectively what some one has said before. He originates nothing and he contributes nothing to the store of information laid by for the benefit of future generations: he stimulates no new thoughts and throws no fresh light upon ancient truths. His great fault is that he makes art a dead thing, ruled and regulated by conventions which forbid as unorthodox all liberty of opinion and freedom of action.
It may be taken, then, as one of the principles of criticism that the artist who is worthiest of attention is the one who chooses for himself a way which leads him out of the beaten track, but who at the same time does not mistake eccentricity for originality. The really original artist is too much in earnest to play tricks for the amusement of the public: his originality has in it no selfconsciousness and is not meant to be an advertisment of a kind of sham cleverness.
He is, indeed, original because he is endowed naturally with the capacity to see rightly; he wants no conventional aids to make his meaning intelligible or his work effective. And it is his rightness of vision that gives authority and value to his art, for this capacity is the foundation of all fine achievement and the source of all poetic inspiration.
It is because his work has the qualities which satisfy the most exigent demand for sincerity and accurate observation that JOHN BUXTON KNIGHT has a right to be considered. Among modern artists he stands out as one of the most soundly independent of all our students of nature, and as one of the most personal exponents of landscape subjects whom we have had amongst us in recent times. In the ample series of his paintings he laboured consistently to express a conviction which was founded not upon the dogma of any school of artistic belief, but upon his own experience, obtained by long and intimate contact with nature, He saw things in his own way, and what he saw he interpreted by the light of his own intelligence, robustly and confidently, and with a frank directness which was a reflection of an exceptionally honest intention. To curry favour with the public by weakening his conviction to suit some popular fashion was a thing he never attempted; he had ideals, and to abandon them for the sake of expediency would have been repugnant to him.
At any rate, there was not in his career any moment at which he diverged perceptibly from his principles; as he began so he continued, an earnest and simple-minded student with too much faith in nature's infallibility to wish for any other guide. For this, no doubt, he owed something to his manor of life. Born in the country - at Sevenoaks in 1842 - he began at a very early age to work out of doors, and to depend upon himself in his investigation of the many problems which were there presented for his solution. It is true that his father, WILLIAM KNIGHT, was an artist and art teacher, and was able to supervise and, to some extent, to direct the boy's efforts; but the young artist was not trained on any set system, and was encouraged to hunt out things for himself rather than take on trust information which at that stage of his evolution he could hardly have been expected to understand.
That BUXTON KNIGHT's unconventional preparation for the profession which he was destined to follow with so much success was by no means ill judged, appeared plainly enough when he commenced to test his powers seriously. He was only eighteen when he exhibited his first picture at the Academy; and during the next few years he showed several other canvases at various exhibitions, so that even before he had arrived at manhood he must have been able to express himself with considerable facility. It was, perhaps, because he knew so much already that, when he was twenty-two he became a student in the Royal Academy Schools, He could see then what he would gain from a spell of systematic training, and his convictions were so well established that he felt he could use his training to supply any deficiencies of which he was conscious in his equipment, without any fear of being turned from the course which he had decided to pursue.
After spending two years in the Academy Schools he returned to his open air work, and for the rest of his life he strove in all sincerity to fulfil what he held to be his mission in art. During some forty years of continuous effort he built up a wonderful series of pictures, landscapes, sea paintings, and coast subjects, with occasional studies of pastoral life and a few portraits, in which were embodied the results of his constant observation. In this series there is to be seen nothing but the progressive working out of a fixed idea; from the beginning to the end there is no variation of purpose and no change in the artist's attitude. What variations there are in the character of his paintings came simply from the widening of his experience as he studied nature under different conditions and in new directions, and from the increase in technical facility which resulted from incessant practice. His work with the lapse of years grew in breadth and certainty, and acquired a more subtle significance; it concerned itself less with details and more with large principles, but it fell under no outside influences, and its personal quality varied not at all.
Yet it is imposible to accuse BUXTON KNIGHT of ever having sunk into a mannerism, Prolific painter as he was, with all his energy of application and rapidity of production, he never acquired that easy trick of repeating himself, and at no time did he substitue a recipe for the direct inspiration of nature. Indeed, he guarded himself purposefully against the danger of any such lapse by constantly shifting his sketching ground and by accustoming himself to all types of scenary. When he first left the Academy Schools he went, not back to Kent, where he would have found himself among familiar surroundings, but to Devonshire and Cornwall, where not only the physical characteristics of the country but even the atmospheric conditions were unlike those that he had hitherto experienced; and for the rest of his life he wandered far and wide, painting first in one place, then in another, but always keeping an open mind, receptive directly to the impressions of the locality in which he had temporarily settled.
Perhaps his position as a member of the Bristish School gains in interest from the fact that almost the whole of his work was done within the British Isles. He made a few excursions abroad, but the number of paintings which resulted from these excursions was too small to count much in the record of his achievement. It is as a British painterof British scenery that he really ranks, and his work has a value, apart from its xecutive merits, because it helps greatly to bring up-to-date the tradition which was founded in this country a century or more ago by masters who were as independent as he was himself in studying and recording the beauties of heir native land. To speak of him as the successor of CONSTABLE would not be without justification, not because he consciously or purposely based himself upon that master, but because he had much of his predecessor's spirit and unconventioality of method, and, as well, a full share of his artistic intelligence. The two men met on a common ground of nature worship, but each had his own creed to which he was entirely faithful, and each applied his belief as his temperament dictated. It would be unprofitable to claim that either of them was the true believer, for both did their best with the powers with which they were endowed, and both were strenuous in heir opposition to all sorts of false dogma.
Sir William H. Aykroyd is indebted to the author Mr A. Lys Baldry, and to the Publishers of "THE STUDIO", for permission to use the appreciation.