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In connection with the color, scheme, the mural decorations invite attention at many places. The outdoor character of the Exposition has given unusual locations to some of these decorations. There are in all some thirty. Mr. Guérin, as the director of color, had full charge of their production, and all of them were painted by men he trusted personally as regards their ability to execute and to finish on time. That his choice fell largely on Eastern men was only too natural.
Few people have a proper idea of the magnitude of the work involved in painting a huge decoration, and Mr. Guérin can hardly be blamed for his choice of the men of experience who finally did the work, although not all of them justified the confidence placed in them. The work of painting such huge decorations is necessarily a big undertaking, involving many preliminary studies and much physical and mechanical labor in the end. Many painter-decorators employ large numbers of trained men, apprentices and independent artists, to assist in the execution of their commissions, and very frequently the temptation of yielding the pleasure of execution to other hands is the cause of the lowering of standards.
Probably, none of the canvases by Mr. Robert Reid, in the dome of the Fine Arts Palace, can be said to do justice to the remarkable decorative talent of Mr. Reid. He is so well and prominently known as a painter of many successful decorations, in the East, that it is to be regretted that he was not in a happier mood when he came to the task of painting his eight panels of irregular shape for the Exposition.
The very scattered style of painting so effective in many of his easel paintings, which show all the fine qualities of a modern impressionistic school, is not of great help in pictures intended to be viewed from a great distance. His decorations present very little opportunity for the eye to rest upon them, and they are altogether too involved, in their turbulent compositions. Their color is not unattractive, no matter how cold, and of sufficient interest to atone for the lack of dignified design. The subjects of all of these are by no means unattractive, and a description of them reads far better than the pictures look.
The birth of European art is symbolized in the first panel. There are five dominant figures, grouped about an altar on which burns the sacred fire. An earthly messenger leans from his chariot to receive in his right hand from the guardian of the flame the torch of inspiration, while with his left hand he holds back his rearing steeds. In front of these a winged attendant checks for an instant their flight. The central figure, the guardian of the altar, still holds the torch, and below her are three satellites, one clasping a cruse of oil, another pouring oil upon the altar, while she holds in her hand a flaming brand, ready to renew the flame should it falter, a third zealously watching the fire as it burns. Opposite these a figure holds a crystal gazing-globe, in which the future has been revealed to her, but her head is turned to watch the flight of the earthly messenger.
The birth of Oriental art is symbolized in the second panel. The forces of the earth, wresting inspiration from the powers of the air, are pictured by a contest between a joyous figure in ancient Chinese armor, mounted upon a golden dragon, combating an eagle. A female figure under a huge umbrella represents Japan, while on either side are two other Oriental figures, in gorgeous attire, symbolic of the long periods of Oriental art.
The third panel represents the Ideals in Art. There are seven figures, the Greek ideal of beauty dominating all in a classic nude. Below this Religion is portrayed, in a Madonna and Child. Heroism is shown in Jeanne d'Arc, mounted on a war-horse and flinging abroad her victorious pennant. A young girl represents youth and material beauty, while at her side a flaunting peacock stands for absolute nature, without ideal or inspiration. A mystic figure in the background holds the cruse of oil. Over all of them floats a winged figure holding a laurel wreath for the victorious living, while a shadowy figure in the foreground holds a palm for the dead.
The fourth panel represents the inspirations of all Art, five figures symbolizing Music, Painting, Architecture, Poetry, and Sculpture. Flying above these are two winged figures, one holding a torch flaming with the sacred oil that has been brought from the altar, the other drawing back the veil of darkness, revealing the tangible, visible expression of Art to mortal eyes.
The four single panels symbolize the four golds of California; the poppies, the citrus fruits, the metallic gold, and the golden wheat. The idea of the four golds is particularly novel and will some day yield far more interesting results, and I hope the subject will not be allowed to lie idle. It is a very fine idea, too good not to be used permanently in some dignified building in California.
The Court of the Four Seasons offers a decorative scheme of eight panels above the doorways in the colonnades and two large panels in the orchestral niche on the south. All of these ten paintings were done by Milton Bancroft, one of the younger of the Eastern decorator-painters, who took his task seriously enough, without rising in any of his decorations above the conventional, with the exception of the "Autumn" and the two larger panels in the half dome.
All of the seven decorations belonging to the set of eight smaller ones are rather academic in their monotony of symmetrical compositions, not sufficiently relieved by variety of detail. These decorations have to excess what Reid's decorations are lacking in, namely, repose. Their coloring is quiet and in thorough harmony with the architecture.
Bancroft's two more importantly placed decorations are, fortunately, his best efforts. "Art Crowned by Time" and "Man Receiving Instruction in the Laws of Nature" are very effective in their stateliness and thoroughly decorative quality. They show the artist's allegiance to the great decorations of the Renaissance in many quaint ways of filling out the background spaces by puttos holding tablets, simple bits of architecture, and conventionalized trees. His figure of "Art" is unique among his figures in the decorative pattern used on the mantle which falls gracefully from her shoulders. All the other Bancroft decorations are devoid of this use of surface patterns, which are so helpful and interesting in decorative arrangement.
It is only a few steps from the Court of the Four Seasons into the Court of Palms. In entering through the orchestral niche one passes directly underneath the lunette which holds the very decorative canvas by Arthur Mathews, the acknowledged leader in the art of California. It must be said that it does not seem right, in the light of what has been contributed by men from elsewhere, that Mathews' superb talent should have been employed only in one panel. His "Victorious Spirit," a rich and noble composition, has certain enduring qualities which are not to be found in a single one of any of the others. Simply taken as a decoration, his picture is most effective by its richness of color, and without going into the question of its meaning, it is thoroughly satisfactory as a decoration.
Childe Hassam's lunette, said to represent "Fruit and Flowers," is almost anaemic alongside Mathews' fullness of expression. Nobody ever suspected Childe Hassam of being a decorator, no matter how admittedly important a place he holds in the field of easel painting. The composition of his decorations is frugal in every sense, largely owing to the small scale of his figures. In the physical center of the composition nothing of interest happens, and the composition breaks almost in two. The coloring is insipid, and altogether not in keeping, in its extreme coldness, with the happy warmth of the travertine surrounding it.
Directly opposite, Charles Holloway presents himself in a very happy painting called "The Pursuit of Pleasure." A study of this picture can result in nothing but complete satisfaction. It is well and interestingly composed, lively in arrangement, in good scale, and not lacking in a certain feeling of repose, so essential in a good decoration, and, for that matter, in any work of art.
In the great arch of the Tower of Jewels the most elaborate decorations of Mr. William de Leftwich Dodge, of New York, command attention first of all by their fine and lively colors. These decorations show a most experienced artist, treating a wide variety of interrelated subjects with great skill. These enormous canvases, sixteen by ninety-six feet in size, are divided into a triptych, each picture continuing its central scheme into two smaller side panels.
The great composition to the left is labeled "The Atlantic and the Pacific," with a picture of "The Purchase" on the right and "The Discovery" on the left. Opposite we have the "Gateway of all Nations," with "Labor Crowned" and "The Achievement" on either side.
Mr. Dodge has a very fine sense of decoration, which he used with much skill. His command of human forms, together with the complete mastery of all other detail, enables him to paint very easily decorations which leave no doubt as to his long and varied experience in this field.
"The Atlantic and the Pacific" is very interesting in its formal symmetry, splendidly relieved by the individual treatment of the eastern and western nations which receive with expressions of joy the completion of the great waterway which means so much for the furthering of their mutual interests.
"The Gateway of all Nations" on the opposite side is less symmetrical, but very well balanced in its arrangement of many elements, naturalistic as well as allegorical. On the left, in the middle picture, one sees the retiring forces of labor, proudly watching the great procession of varied ships, moving in a joyous parade, led by Father Neptune and attendants, towards the recently opened gate. Preceding Father Neptune are allegorical figures, rhythmically swinging away into the sky. All of Dodge's decorations are good for their sound decorative treatment, always sustaining well the architectural surrounding frame, so particularly important in this great and massive tower. Dodge's backgrounds are devoid of any naturalistic suggestion, which so often destroys otherwise effective decorations.
The function of a decoration must always be to preserve the feeling of the wall, as opposed to the work of the easel painter, who wants to assist in forgetting that there is a canvas and to suggest that we are looking into the far distance. A good decoration should, as it were, allow the driving of a nail into any part of its surface - it should not make a hole in the wall.
In the two triumphal arches of the Nations of the East and the West, Frank Vincent Du Mond and Edward Simmons, respectively, contributed to the scheme of decorations. In the western arch, DuMond painted a continuous frieze of the march of civilization towards the great West. His work is most conscientiously done, very intellectual, and most effective in color, as well as in arrangement. You see in his continued scheme the entire story of western development.
It begins with the youth departing from his old father, who only reluctantly - feeling the infirmities of old age - stays behind. Preceding the young man, the historical prairie-schooner, accompanied by pioneers, continues the procession. This is developed further in historical groups of soldiers, priests, and men representing the intellectual rise of the great West. There is William Keith, with the palette, Bishop Taylor, Bret Harte, Captain Anza, and other well known western figures, taking their place in the procession of tent wagons and allegorical figures, all striving towards that very fine group representing California in all the gorgeousness and splendor of the Golden State. This composition of "California," taken by itself, is one of the very best passages in the whole decoration, and could very effectively be used all by itself.
On the east, Edward Simmons presents two very charming compositions, full of great refinement and delicacy. The refined coloring of his decorations, so very delightful by themselves, is not in accord with the architecture, and in the overawing surroundings of the great arch they do not look as well as they might in a more intimate scheme of smaller scale. The one to the left, as seen from the Court of the Universe, tells of the dreams which led to the exploring and exploiting of the great West. Carefully designed figures of great refinement. represent "Hope" and "Illusory Hope," scattering tempting bubbles, heading the procession of stately women. They are followed by "Adventure," "Art," "Imagination," "Truth," and "Religion" and a group suggesting family life.
On the opposite side the westward trend of War, Commerce, Conquest, Imagination, and Religion from all corners of the earth is typified.
Mr. Simmons in all his work employs a very unusual technique of broken columns, without losing a certain desirable simplicity of surface. His allegorical theme on the north side will linger in the minds of the people as one of the best of the Exposition decorations, particularly for its graceful drawing.
It seems hardly possible to do adequate justice to the very unusual genius of Frank Brangwyn, who charms thousands of Exposition visitors with his eight panels, representing the Four Elements, in the Court of Abundance. Brangwyn's pictures have one great advantage over all of the others, which lies in their accessible location, well controlled by daylight. All the other decorations seem to me to be situated too high above the ground. Brangwyn's have no such disadvantage to contend with. How much more important, for instance, Mathews' lunette would look, placed somewhere nearer the level of the eye.
Brangwyn's canvases are a veritable riot of color, full of animation and life. They are almost dynamic. There seems to be something going on in all of them, all the time, and one hardly knows whether it is the composition, the color, or the subject, or all three, which gives them this very pronounced feeling of animation. He knows how to approach the extreme possibilities in pictorial decoration without losing sight of certain elements of repose. Seen from a distance, their effect at first is somewhat startling, owing to their new note, not reminiscent in the very least of the work of any other living - or past - painter. On closer examination they disclose a great wealth of form, very skillfully treated. There is every indication that it gave the artist the utmost pleasure to paint them. This spirit of personal enjoyment, which all of them convey in a remarkably sustained fashion, is contagious, and disarms all criticism. They are primarily great paintings in a technical sense. Added to that quality is a passionate love of pure color, juxtaposed with fine feeling for complementary colors of great intensity.
Brangwyn's glass window technique, of separation into many primary and secondary colors by many broad contrasts of neutral browns and grays, is very effective in bringing a feeling of harmony in all of his paintings, no matter how intense their individual color notes may be.
His pictures are not intellectual in the least, and all of the people in his pictures are animals, more or less, and merely interested in having a square meal and being permitted to enjoy life in general, to the fullest extent.
The quality of enjoyment that runs through all of Brangwyn's work is extremely useful in the general atmosphere of Mullgardt's court. In the northwest corner, Nature is represented, in all the fecundity of the earth. Only in our wildest dreams, and only in the advertisements of California farm lands and orchards, do such grapes, pumpkins, pears, and apples exist.
The picture to the left shows the grape-treaders, in the old-fashioned and unhygienic practice of crushing grapes by dancing on them in enormous vats. Others are seen gathering and delivering more grapes. As in the other picture, showing the harvest of fruit, more people are shown. Brangwyn never hesitates to use great numbers of people, which seem to give him no trouble whatever in their modeling and characterization.
Following on to the right, "Fire," represented as the primitive fire and as industrial fire, in two pictures, continues the scheme. That group of squatting woodmen carefully nursing a little fire is almost comical, with their extended cheeks, and one can almost feel the effort of their lungs in the strained anatomy of their backs. There does not seem to be anything too difficult for Brangwyn. "Industrial Fire" is interesting from the decorative note of many pieces of pottery in the foreground. They seem to have come from the kiln which muscular men are attending.
"Water" is unusually graceful and delicate in its vertical arrangement of trees and the curve of the fountain stream, coming from the side of a hill. Women, children, and men have congregated, taking their turn in filling all sorts of vessels, some carried on their heads, some in their arms. Brangwyn's clever treatment of zoölogical and botanical detail is well shown in flowers in the foreground, such as foxglove and freesia, and the graceful forms of a pair of pinkish flamingoes. In the other panel of the same subject, a group of men on the shore are hauling in their nets.
The last of the four, "Air," represents this element in two totally different ways; the one on the left gives the more tender, gentle movement of this element, in the suggestion of the scent of the bowmen screened by trees, moving toward their prospective prey, while the other very bold composition is of a windmill turned away from the destructive power of an impending windstorm. In the foreground people are rushed along by gusts of wind, while children, unaware of the impending storm, are flying kites.
The masterful and varied treatment of these eight canvases show Brangwyn as the great painter he is known to be. We should rejoice to have such excellent examples of his brush permanently with us.
While not exactly belonging to the number of official decorations, Edward Trumbull's wall paintings in the unique Pennsylvania building are of great interest. Thoroughly dignified in their composition, they are most descriptive in their subject-matter. The "Pennsylvania Industries" are on the west side and "Penn's Treaty with the Indians" on the other. It is evident that Trumbull is a disciple of Brangwyn, though a personal note is not lacking in his work.
The tea-room of the California building harbors some mural decorations by Miss Florence Lundborg which the male part of the population can enjoy only by special invitation. I regret that they are not placed somewhere where the casual Exposition stroller can see them, because they are deserving of more attention than they are apt to receive. Miss Lundborg's artistic contributions have for many years been along the lines of decorations and in this big, well-composed figural scheme she discloses again a very fine, sympathetic understanding of the problems of a wall decoration. The color scheme is very refreshing and gives life to a large hall which has been endowed with unusual distinction by Miss Lundborg's art. A number of decorative floral medallions complete a scheme which is characterized throughout by dignity and sympathy.