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|The Color Scheme & Landscape Gardening
Nothing excites the Exposition visitor more than the color scheme of the buildings. But "excite" is really not the proper word, because there is nothing exciting about it. Nothing was farther from Mr. Guérin's mind than to create excitement, unrest, or any of those sensations that might lead to fatigue or even to a nervous breakdown. We understand fully by this time that it was Jules Guérin who is the responsible artist, and who supervised the putting into existence of the first real "Guérin" that ever was. Mr. Guérin has the distinction of being the first director of color and of decoration ever appointed for an international exposition.
It must become evident to any person who is at all familiar with the fascinating tonal designs Guérin produces for many of our leading magazines that what he did was nothing but to paint nature as he has been used to represent it in his pictures. Guérin must have had a glorious time with that first great opportunity, so seldom to happen, of putting all those pet colors of his into the actual outdoors, there to feast his eyes upon them. It was a daring and novel undertaking, most successful in a large way. I hope we are going to benefit by this successful experiment and begin to give life to our dreary cement façades, mournful roofs, and lifeless window-sashes, ornamentations, and what not. We are, I admit, hopelessly at the mercy of the housepainter, who knows much about estimates, something about paint, and little about color. I hope we are going to learn the difference between paint and color, the purely physical, meaningless thing on the one hand, and the intelligence-conveying, pleasure-giving element on the other.
Guérin certainly knows color, and I take it for granted that a man of his training and experience knows how to use paint. His exposition buildings look for all the world like a live Guérin print taken from the Century Magazine and put down alongside of the bay which seems to have responded, as have the other natural assets, for a blending of the entire creation into one harmonious unit. I fancy such a thing was possible only in California, where natural conditions invite such a technical and artistic innovation.
The general effect is one of great warmth. The basic tone of the travertine furnishes a very rich foundation for the other colors added. The whole range of color is very simple and it is simplicity and repetition over large areas that make the colors so effective. There are three different greens, for instance - the patina green on many minor domes, suggesting aged copper surfaces; a very strong primary green, on the small doors of the palaces and most of the lattice work; and another very pale, pinkish green, a sort of an abalone shell green, used on all the flagpole bases, always topped off with a light pinkish red, used above the light green base on all the flagpoles.
Then there are the reds, a number of different reds, running from a pinkish brick color to a darker russet red, to be found exclusively in all vertical panels serving as background for detailed statuary - for instance, in all the courts. Next to the red there is a brilliant orange, used in relatively small quantities here and there in the mouldings, as around the Brangwyn paintings in the Court of Abundance.
This leaves yet to be named the few soothing blues that abound in the ceilings, in the deep recesses of the walls, and the coffered arches, serving as backgrounds for the many richly-modeled terra cotta rosettes.
This is practically the entire range of colors, but they assume, of course, endless variations of tone and intensity, owing to the difference of the surfaces and the play of light and shadow. The relation of the whole color scheme to the colors furnished by nature is by no means accidental. The effect of the ensemble, on a calm, sunny day, is hard to describe in its gorgeous beauty.
The pressing into service of nature as applied to color was particularly inviting, of course, on the bay side, where simple sweeps of skies, foothills, and plain bodies of water furnish almost ideal conditions. This is true in a similar way for the background in the west, but toward the south - well, we had better forget such mournful outward aspects of our great city of San Francisco, known around the world for its gay temperament.
Appreciating the importance of detail, Guérin extended his color treatment to practically everything presenting surface. Nothing could escape his vigilant eyes. Even the sand covering of the asphalted roads is of a peculiarly attractive blend. It seems like a mixture of ordinary sand with a touch of cinnamon. Even that corps of stalwart guards had to submit to a tonal harmony of drabs, with touches of yellow metal, warm red puttees, and neat little yellow Spanish canes. They all seem very proud and appreciative of their part in the concert of colors. And they speak of it with feeling and reverence. Not long ago, during a rather stormy, wet day, I happened to notice several of these cicerones hiding in a doorway of one of the palaces, looking most disconsolate. The reason for it became immediately apparent; the un-Californian weather had forced them to put on civilian overcoats of indescribable hues, and the shame of being out of color was plainly written in their faces. It shows that art is largely a matter of education.
I fancy that all that a respectful and appreciative public could do, in order to live up to the occasion, would be to have Exposition suits built of pongee silk, or some other harmonious material. So far, on all of my visits, I observed a shocking preponderance of black, which I hope will eventually yield to the softer colors of lighter materials, with the arrival of warmer weather.
The careful observer will find that the crimson vermilion red of the fire alarm boxes had to yield to a more refined vivid orange, much, I understand, to the consternation of the Exposition fire marshal, who must have been shocked at this intrusion.
The horticultural effect of the grounds, flower beds, and shrubbery will always adapt itself properly to the color scheme, and a preponderance of warm yellows, reds, and orange will simultaneously fill out the garden areas. At first yellow pansies and daffodils had control, to be replaced in due season by the uniform appearance of tulips, hyacinths, and successions of other flowers. This progressive appearance of new flower carpets will provide ever-changing elements of interest throughout the entire period of the Exposition.
It seems only right at this time to speak of the great and modestly contributed services of John McLaren. He, with his wide experience and unceasing energy, created the garden setting which ties all the buildings into a natural harmony. Hardly ever have trees, shrubs, and flowers been used in such profusion in an Exposition. Conventional in aspect, all great expositions in the past have been lacking in the invigorating elements, no matter how naturalistic the site may have been. The few scraggly pines of St. Louis looked more like undesirable left-overs of a former forest than like a supporting feature of the Exposition picture.
The stony look of many former expostions is not evident at San Francisco. Considering the fact that the exposition is largely on made ground, it is amazing what has been accomplished. With the exception of the few scattering remains of an old amusement park - the Harbor View Gardens - so charmingly utilized in the courtyard of the California building, practically all the trees and shrubs had to be brought in from the outside. How well Mr. McLaren succeeded in moving whole gardens "en bloc" to the Exposition is shown by the fact that with the exception of a few Monterey cypresses on one of the lagoon islands, not a single tree has died. It was no small task to transplant eucalypti forty feet high, and aged yew trees, and the tradition that it is impossible to transplant old trees has again been demonstrated as in the same class with other old sayings based on the experience of the past, but applying no longer to our own conditions.
The stately rows of palms on the south avenue contain some specimens of the Canary Island palms which must be nearly forty years old, and some of the yews in the colonnade between the Court of the Four Seasons and the Marina, near Miss Longman's Fountain of Ceres, are probably even older. The massing of large groups of black acacia, Monterey pines, and cypresses, filled in at the edge with veronica and many other flowering shrubs, gives many interesting notes, and serves frequently as backgrounds for statuary.
Like everything else, from the architecture down, the garden aspect of the Exposition is not frugal nor skimpy, whatever floral effects are used. Like shrubbery, trees occur in great profusion, and without regard for difficulties in transplanting.
The Court of the Universe did not receive the generous treatment from Mr. McLaren that it almost cries for. The few isolated Italian cypresses in the Court, near the tower, no doubt help a good deal, but one is tempted to ask why there are not more of them. Italian cypresses are hard to transplant, particularly if their feet have become accustomed to the peaceful conditions of Santa Clara Valley cemeteries, where most of them, I understand, enjoyed an undisturbed existence until they were used so very effectively in the Exposition. These successfully moved old trees are by far the most useful trees in architectural schemes, as anybody who knows the Villa Borghese in Rome must admit.
I would like to see a law passed that every person at a certain age must plant six Italian cypresses. I humbly suggest this to our legislators, who seem to be suffering from a lack of measures to be introduced and passed for the benefit of the people.
The Italian cypress is our most picturesque tree, and for combination with architecture, is unrivaled by any other tree. They grow rather slowly, but do not take much space, on account of their vertical habit. The making of the Court of Palms is due largely to the liberal use of these elegant trees, with their somber stateliness.
The lover of outdoors will find no end to his pleasurable investigations in the many fine, luxurious groupings of flowering shrubs. Heather, which does so well with us, and blooms when only few flowers brighten our gardens, has been profusely used in solid beds at the base of the Kelham towers, around Festival Hall, and in many other places. The dainty, glistening foliage, interspersed with red berries of another acclimated alien from the Himalaya Mountains - the Cotoneaster - makes fine borders around the pool in the Court of the Four Seasons, in the Court of Palms, and in several of the colonnades.
Evergreen plants and shrubs are the dominant features of the two Italian Avenues connecting the big court with the side courts. The rich and luxuriant carpets of the many varieties of box, thuya, taxus, and dwarf pine, in dark, somber greens and many lighter color variations, are superb.
In the Court of Abundance great masses of orange trees furnish the dominant note. They are most effective with their branches heavily laden with fruit. They are not only a surprise to the outsider, but even to the Californian, who wonders at the skill and experience which made this feat possible.