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|The Galleries of the Exposition
It would seem only logical to begin our investigation with the pictures chronologically oldest, at the same time recognizing that European art has the right to first consideration. We are the hosts to the art of the world. Our own art is the newest, and yet occupies a large number of galleries most conspicuously, but it will not lose by waiting for attention till the end.
Some of the very earliest paintings in the exhibition are found in one of the large center rooms on the left, where a very stately Tiepolo controls the artistic atmosphere of a large gallery. This picture has all the qualities of an old Italian master of the best kind. Its composition is big and dignified and in the interest and richness of its color scheme it has here few equals. The chief characteristic of this splendid canvas is bigness of style. In its treatment it is a typical old master, in the best meaning of the term.
On the left of this Tiepolo, a rather sombre canvas by Ribera claims attention by the peculiar lighting scheme, so typical of this Italian master. While there is what we might call a quality of flood lighting in the Tiepolo, giving an envelope of warm, mellow light to the whole picture, Ribera concentrates his light somewhat theatrically upon his subjects, as in the St. Jerome. The picture is freely painted, with the very convincing anatomical skill that is manifest in most of Ribera's work. His shadows are sometimes black and impenetrable, a quality which his pictures may not have had at the time of their production, and which may be partly the result of age. The Goya on the same wall is uninteresting - one of those poor Goyas which have caused delay in the just placing of this great Spaniard in the history of art.
The Turner below the Goya has all the imaginative qualities of that great Englishman's best work. Venice may never look the way Turner painted it, but his interpretation of a gorgeous sunset over a canal is surely fascinating enough in its suggestion of wealth of form and color. Sir William Beechey's large canvas of a group of children and a dog probably presented no easy task to the painter. The attempt at a skillful and agreeable arrangement of children in pictures is often artificial, and so it is to my mind in this canvas. Nevertheless the colouring, together with the spontaneous technique, put it high above many canvases of similar type. The Spanish painting on the right of the Beechey could well afford to have attached to it the name of one of the best artists of any school. The unknown painter of this Spanish gentleman knew how to disclose the psychology of his sitter in a straightforward way that would have done honor to Velasquez, or to Frans Hals, of whom this picture is even more suggestive.
Below this very fine portrait Sir Godfrey Kneller is represented by a canvas very typical of the eighteenth century English portrait painters. The canvas has a little of the character of everybody, without being sufficiently individual. Reynolds' "Lady Ballington" has a wonderful quality of repose and serenity, one of the chief merits of the work of all those great English portrait painters of the eighteenth century. No matter whose work it is, whether of Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner, or any of that classic period of the painters of distinguished people, they always impress by the dignity of their composition and colour. We do not know in all cases how distinguished their sitters really were, but like Reynolds' "Lady Ballington," they must often have been of a sort superior physically as well as intellectually.
Above the Reynolds a small Gainsborough landscape blends well with the predominant brown of these old canvases. From the point of view of the modern landscape painter, who believes in the superiority of his outlook and attitude toward nature, we can only be glad that Gainsborough's fame does not depend upon his representation of out-of-doors. This small canvas, like the very big one on the opposite wall, is interesting in design. But neither gives one the feeling of outdoors that our modern landscape painters so successfully impart. Historically they are very interesting, and even though they carry the name of such a master of portraits as Gainsborough undoubtedly was, they are devoid of all the refreshing qualities that modern art has given to the world.
Sir Peter Lely and Sir Henry Raeburn claim particular attention on the north wall - the first by a deftly painted portrait of a lady, and the other by a broadly executed likeness of John Wauchope. As portraits go, the first picture is one of the finest in the gallery. Very conspicuous by their size, the two big Romney portraits on the east wall are not in the same class with either the Lawrence or the Reynolds on the same wall. The great Lawrence portrait, the lady with the black hat, is one of the most superb portraits in the world. There is a peculiar charm about this canvas quite independent of the very attractive Lady Margaret represented in the picture. The luscious blacks and pale reds and the neutral cream silk cape make for a colour harmony seldom achieved. Reynolds' portrait of John Thomas, Bishop of Rochester, is equally rich and full of fine colour contrasts. The shrewd-looking gentleman is psychologically well given, although one's attention is detracted from the head by the gorgeous raiment of a dignitary of the church.
I think Hogarth's portrait on the small wall to the right does not disclose this master at his best, nor does Hoppner rise to the level of his best work in the large portrait alongside of it. The Marchioness of Wellesley is better and more sympathetically rendered than her two children, who barely manage to stay in the picture.
On the whole an atmosphere of dignity permeates this gallery of older masters. One may deplore the lack of many characteristics of modern art in many of the old pictures. They are very often lifeless and stiff, but the worst of them are far more agreeable than most of those of our own time. The serene beauty of the Tiepolo, the Lawrence, and the Gainsborough portrait has hardly been surpassed since their day. Our age is, of course, the age of the landscape painter, the outdoor painter, as opposed to the indoor portraits of these great masters. It would not be right to judge a Gainsborough by his landscapes any more than it would be to judge a modern landscape painter by his portraits. But no matter how uninteresting these old landscapes are, their brown tonality insures them a certain dignity of inoffensiveness which a mediocre modern work of art never possesses, I would rather any time have a bad old picture than a bad one of the very recent schools. Modesty is not one of the chief attributes of modern art, and the silent protest of a gallery such as the one we are now in, the artist can well afford to heed.
The sculpture in this gallery has no relation to the historical character of the room, but fits well into the atmosphere. Adolph A. Weinman's admirable "Descending Night" is so familiar to all Exposition visitors, in its adaptation in a fine fountain in the Court of the Universe, that no more reference need be made to it. Here in bronze on a small scale, it is even more refined. Mrs. Saint Gaudens' charming family group, in burnt clay, is not so well in harmony with this gallery of older work, but infinitely more appealing than J. Q. A. Ward's "Hunter" or Cyrus Dallin's "Indian". Both of these groups lack suggestive quality. They are carried too far. Edward Kemeys' "Buffaloes" lacks a sense of balance. The defeated buffalo, pushed over the cliff, takes the interest of the observer outside of the center of the composition, and a lack of balance is noticeable in this otherwise well modelled group.
In this room one is carried farther back into the earlier phases of painting by a Luini of pronounced decorative quality. The picture is probably a part of a larger scheme, but it is well composed into the frame which holds it. Besides, it is of interest as the only piece of old mural painting included in the exhibition. The ground on which the angel is painted is a piece of the plaster surface of the original wall of which this fragment was a part. The method of producing these fresco paintings (al fresco calco) necessitated the employment of a practical plasterer besides the painter. The painting was first drawn carefully on paper and then transferred in its outlines upon freshly prepared plaster, just put upon the wall. Having no other means of making the paint adhere to the surface, the painter had to rely upon the chemical reaction of the plaster, which would eventually unify the paint with itself. It was a very tedious process, which nowadays has been superseded by the method of painting on canvas, which after completion in the studio is fastened to the wall. Above the Luini hangs a very Byzantine looking Timoteo Viti "Madonna" of interesting colour and good design, but with a Christ child of very doubtful anatomy, and also two old sixteenth century Dutch pictures - a Jan Steen and a Teniers. I have my doubts as to the authenticity of the last two pictures. They are both interesting as disclosing the fondness of the Dutch painters of the sixteenth century for over-naturalistic subjects.
On wall B two pictures, without author or title, appeal to one's imagination. They are both well painted and rich in colour. A certain big decorative quality puts them far above their neighbor - a Dutch canvas of bad composition with no redeeming features other than historical interest. Jacopo da Ponte's big "Lazarus" has a certain noble dignity. Though it is rather black in shadows, it is not devoid of colour feeling. On either side are two old Spanish portraits of children of royalty. They impress by their very fine decorative note, charmingly enhanced by the wonderful frames. Another Ribera, as forceful as the one mentioned before, easily stands out among the many pictures in this gallery, most of which are only of historical interest. The whole aspect of this little gallery is one of extreme remoteness from modern thought and idea, but as an object lesson of certain older periods it is invaluable.
Chronologically a typical old Charles Le Brun presides over a very interesting lot of pictures, mostly French. This academic canvas, of Darius' family at the feet of Alexander, has not the simplicity and decorative quality of the Italian pictures of that period, and it is entirely too complex to be enjoyable. The beautiful Courbet on the left, while suggestive of Ribera in its severe disposal of light and shadow, has also a quality of its own, a wonderful mellowness which gives it a unity of expression lacking in its turbulent neighbor on the right.
Among the other bigger pictures in this small gallery, a very poetic Cazin, "The Repentance of Simon Peter," commands attention by a certain outdoor quality which faintly suggests the Barbizon school. One does not know what to admire most in this fine canvas. As a figural picture it is intensely beautiful, and merely as a landscape it is of convincing charm. It is to my mind one of the finest paintings in the exhibition, and a constant source of great pleasure.
The big Tissot offers few excuses for having been painted at all. It is nothing but a big illustration - all it tells could have been said on a very small canvas. There is no real painting in it, nor composition - nothing else, for that matter. The two Monticellis on the same wall make up for the Tissot. Rich in colour and design, the one to the left is particularly fine. The Van Marcke on the same wall is typical of this painter's methods, but does not disclose his talent for very interesting pictorial compositions, for which he was known.
On the opposite wall an older Israels gives lone a good idea of the earlier period of this great Dutch painter, justly counted as one of the great figures of the second half of the last century. While of recent date, his art belongs to the older school - without attaching any odium to that classification. The Barbizon school, the most important of the last century, is very fitly represented by two charming and most delicate Corots on either side of the Israels. The one to the right is particularly tender and poetic. While by no means an attempt at a naturalistic impressionistic interpretation of nature, like a modern Metcalf, for instance, their suggestive power is so great as to overcome a certain lack of colour by the convincingness of the mood represented. Daubigny and Rousseau, of that great company of the school of 1825, are merely suggested in two small and very conscientious studies.
This will always be remembered as the gallery of the "Green Madonna". Whatever caused this "Green Madonna" to be honored by a Grand Prix at Paris will always remain one of those mysteries with which the world is laden. Of all disagreeable colour schemes, it is certainly one of the least appealing ever put upon a canvas. It is hardly a scheme at all, since I do not believe the juxtaposition of so many different slimy greens, nowhere properly relieved nor accentuated by a complementary red, can ever be called a scheme. Technically speaking, the canvas is well painted, but it is hardly worthy of the attention its size and subject win. Dagnan-Bouveret has rendered good service as a teacher and also as a painter of animal life, but in this canvas he surely is not up to his best.
The Barbizon men continue to hold one's attention by a splendid Troyon. It is one of the best of his canvases I have ever seen. The little Diaz alongside of it is also typical of this very luminous painter, who often attains a lusciousness of colour in his work not reached by any other of the Barbizon men.
Fortuny, in an Algiers picture, shows the same brilliant technical quality which is so much in evidence in a small watercolor in the preceding gallery. Jules Bastien-LePage's studio nude seems very unhappily placed in a naturalistic background into which it does not fit, and Cazin's big canvas, while very dignified, hardly comes up to the level of his repenting "Simon Peter", in the other gallery. Pelouse's landscape, of singularly beautiful composition and colour, should not be overlooked. It is alongside the Cazin.
While almost all the pictures referred to so far are of the French school, there are three pictures of the older German school - two Lenbachs, one a very accurately drawn portrait of the German philosopher Mommsen, and the other a portrait of himself. They show this powerful artist in two different aspects. While the Mommsen is one of his later, broader pictures, the portrait of himself is of an earlier date, showing the artist as the serious student he has always been. Adolph Schreyer, another German, with his Bedouin pictures, was the pet of the art lovers in his day, and pictures like this can be found in almost every collection in the world.
The miscellaneous sculpture in this gallery is full of interest and gives one a good suggestion of the great mass of small modern sculpture found throughout the galleries. Mora's Indian figures are particularly interesting from their originality of theme. Mora tries hard to be unconventional, without going into the bizarre, and succeeds very well.
The difference of appearance in the four older galleries discussed and the one now visited is so marked as to lead one to believe that our investigations have not been conducted in the proper chronological order. All the art of the world, up to and including the Barbizon school, is characterized by a predominant brown colour which, on account of its warmth, is never disagreeable, although sometimes monotonous. The daring of the Englishman Constable in painting a landscape outdoors led to the development of a new point of view, which the older artists did not welcome. Constable and the men of the Barbizon school realized for the first time that outdoor conditions were totally different from the studio atmosphere, and while the work of such men as Corot, Millet, Daubigny, Rousseau, and Diaz is only slightly removed from the somber brown of the studio type, it recognizes a new aspect of things which was to be much farther developed than they ever dreamed. Just as Constable shocked his contemporaries by his - for that time - vivid outdoor blues and greens, so the men of the school of 1870, or the impressionists, surprised and outraged their fellowmen with a type of picture which we see in control of this delightfully refreshing gallery. We can testify by this time that Constable, although much opposed in his day, seems very tame to us today, and caution seems well advised before a final judgment of impressionism is passed. The slogan of this gallery seems to be, "More light and plenty of it!" The Monet wall gives a very good idea of the impressionistic school, in seven different canvases ranging from earlier more conventional examples to some of his latest efforts. One more fully understands the goal that these men, like Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, and others in this gallery were striving for when, in an apparently radical way, they discarded the attitude of their predecessors, in their search for light. It is true they encountered technical difficulties which forced them into an opacity of painting which is absolutely opposed to the smooth, sometimes licked appearance of the old masters. Many of these men must be viewed as great experimenters, who opened up new avenues without being entirely able to realize themselves. They are collectively known generally as impressionists, though the word "plein-airist" - luminist - has been chosen sometimes by them and by their admirers. The neo-impressionists in pictorial principle do not differ from the impressionist. Their technical procedure is different, and based on an optical law which proves that pure primary colours, put alongside of each other in alternating small quantities, will give, at a certain distance, a freshness and sparkle of atmosphere not attained by the earlier technical methods of the impressionistic school, which does not in the putting on of the paint differ from the old school. Besides, this use of pure paint enabled them to have the mixing of the paint, so to speak, done on the canvas, as the various primary colours juxtaposed would produce any desired number of secondary and tertiary colours without loss of freshness. In other words a green would be produced, not by mixing yellow and blue on the palette, but by putting a yellow dot and a blue dot alongside of each other, and so ad infinitum. According to the form of their colour dots they were called pointillistes, poiristes, and other more or less self-explanatory names. The service of these men to art can never be estimated too highly. The modern school of landscape painting particularly, and other art involving indoor subjects, are based entirely on the principles Monet discovered to the profession.
Pissarro, on either end of the wall opposite the Monet, appeals more in the new method of the neo-impressionists than Monet, by reason of much more interesting subjects. The one Pissarro on the right is of the first order from every point of view, demonstrating the superiority of the neo-impressionistic style applied to a very original and interesting subject. "The River Seine," by Sisley, is also wonderfully typical of this new style, while of the two Renoirs, only the still-life can really be called successful. There is an unfortunate fuzziness in his landscape which defeats all effect of difference of texture in the various objects of which this picture is composed.
There are a number of canvases in this gallery which have nothing to do with the predominating impressionistic character of the gallery. The Puvis de Chavannes gives one a very fine idea of the idealistic outlook of this greatest of all modern decorators. His art is so genuinely decorative that to see one of his pictures in a frame seems almost pathetic, when we think how infinitely more beautiful it would look as part of a wall. Eugène Carrière is very well represented by a stately portrait of a lady with a small dog. Carrière's mellow richness is entirely his own and rarely met with in any other artist's work.
On the west wall opposite the Puvis four very different canvases deserve to be mentioned. In the center a young Russian, Nicholas Fechin, displays a very unusual virtuosity in a picture of a somewhat sensual-looking young creature. Aside from the fascination of this young human animal, the handling of paint in this canvas is most extraordinary, possessing a technical quality few other canvases in the entire exhibition have. There is life, such as very few painters ever attain, and seen only in the work of a master. This work is not entirely a Nell Brinkley in oil, either. I confess I have a strange fondness for this weird canvas.
The international character of this gallery is most pronounced. Directly above the Fechin, Frits Thaulow, the Norwegian, justifies his reputation as the painter of flowing water in a picture of great beauty. Gaston La Touche faintly discloses in a large canvas his imaginative style, carried so much farther in his later work. Joseph Bail, the Frenchman, got into this gallery probably only on the basis of size, to balance the La Touche on the other side. To all appearances Bail has very little in common with the general modern character of this gallery. Nevertheless his canvas has merit in many ways.