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Etchers and Etchings
Of the numerous types of art, prints have, undoubtedly, benefited and appealed to more human beings than those of any other form, for, after all, they are so satisfactory. A taste for etchings evinces a predilection in favor of monotones and is always an indication of culture, for a person with a comprehensive perception and deep appreciation of the delicacy and significance of the lines of an etcher must have an insight and knowledge of the meaning of art and a love for the beautiful.
The most commonplace scene or object may be full of potential possibilities and clothed in sentiment and beauty if properly handled and brought out by an etcher, whose truthful conception and broadened horizon can point the way and make others see, through his eyes, the natural elements and feelings of sensibility underlying their exterior. It is his province and privilege to translate and carry the message heralding the beacon of clarity and revelation.
The zeal of pursuit in their acquisition, for first-class etchings are by no means as plentiful as good paintings, is part of the fastidious game, and the possession of a prize, the reward of study, energy, training and discrimination.
In going through this collection, artists will be arranged in a rambling rather than chronological order. The great names that stand out in the earlier period of old prints are Rembrandt, Durer and Van Dyck, while those of modern times are Hayden and Whistler; these are the acknowledged masters of the profession.
Rembrandt is one of the immortals; he was a law unto himself; his imperishable witchery adorned and pencil illumined everything his master hand touched; his lines have life, a vivacity and personality in the rendering easily recognized and are infused with imagery and a significance of expression and technical skill that have been unsurpassed. His landscapes, like the "Three Trees" with its striking contrasts, or sacred subjects, as "The Annunciation" or "Christ Healing the Sick," are keen studies in light and shade, while portraits are usually of those tender homely types in which he loved to delineate character. "The Head of an Old Man" fairly glows with the light of intelligence and is invested with a spirit and dignity unrivaled in perfection.
A contemporaneous Flemish artist was Van Dyck, whose portrait etchings, with their economy of line and formal concentration of character, remain the most perfect models in existence. This severe ruffled-neck head of "Joannes Breughel" is a fair sample of his free-hand sketching.
Germany was the birthplace of etching and Albrecht Durer, endowed with an analytical insight into human nature, the founder. His methods were intense and work more complex in its nature, a seeming straining after elaboration, rather complicated, involved and ceremonious with an emphasis on the drawing and a certain prominent stiffness as exemplified in his "Melancholia" which seems overcrowded, obscure and surfeited with symbolism in its lesson and rather an enigma.
Claude Lorrain was a Frenchman of renown who made a series of vivid landscape studies, some of which have been pronounced the choicest ever produced; they appear, however, somewhat superficial, to have little meaning back of the scenes they so faithfully portray. His acknowledged masterpiece is entitled "Le Bouvier."
From Spain, we have the gifted Fortuny, whose brilliant dexterity with the pen is perfectly marvelous. He is dainty, decorative and full of poetry, and his "Idyll" of a shepherd boy sitting on a rural pedestal playing the lute, with the sheep lying in contentment at his feet, is superb and the most graceful figure I know of in etching. It fairly sparkles.
Another Spaniard was the erratic Goya who was almost revolutionary in his art and full of idiosyncrasies. He started. an independent movement of freer composition that would have made him more popular if he had adopted it to less grotesque subjects, but his evil Bohemian career led him into highly imaginative visions amounting at times to coarse caricature that, however fascinating, were too exaggerated anamorphisms to be altogether successful. "The Birdmen," showing men flying through the air with huge outspread wings like bats, is one of his most normal, while the cynical and caustic "Ignorance and Superstition Preparing to Depart before the Dawn of Reason," carries its own moral lesson.
Away to the Northland is a Scandinavian who has made his mark in the art world. "There are two kinds of artists - innovators and imitators," to the first school of which belongs Anders Zorn, the Swedish etcher. There is nothing set nor photographic about his figures; they are not only luminous but both narrative and dramatic and done with a simplicity and well-trained ease, in vital, vigorous free-hand lines, that, unless some study is given to their bold strokes, is apt to mislead one, for there is more than appears on the surface. Excluding "The Toast," the chaste, mythical figure of "Edo" arising from the mist on an enchanted island and "The Waltz" where the dancers are fairly swaying in their apparent movements are among the best. A countryman of his who has also made his reputation is Carl Larssen, with his "Girl's Back," like a silhouette, and "Lisbeth"; others are Mas-Olle's "Dale-carlia Peasants," a treasure, and Magnusson's "Violin Player," alive with animation.
Sohlberg, the Norwegian, is as rich and glorious in etching as in color, full of a spirit that haunts and thrills and which you remember; there is a necromancy in the silver beams of his "Moonlight," while "The Cripple" is directly opposite in its simple treatment and broad scope. Kavli's "Little Child" attracts one by its light lines carried to a consummate finish.
One of the most original artists in Europe was Meryon who lived in poverty and died insane. He is noted for the odd architectural setting of his work with a severity and certitude of design. "L'abside de Notre Dame de Paris" is a model of its kind, encased in a framework of glistening water and fleeting clouds. His "Le Stryge" is the study of a Gargoyle perched on the eave of a building in Paris cynically contemplating the ever-changing flow of humanity below. Baudelaire, the poet, pronounced the "Perspective of San Francisco" as his masterpiece with "the natural solemnity of a great capital, the majesties of accumulated stone and the spires pointing a finger to the skies." This has quite an interesting history inasmuch as a pioneer French banker, F. L. A. Pioche, early in the fifties, had a daguerreotype taken of the city, in three parts; these he forwarded to Meryon in Paris with a carte blanche order to be sketched, which, despite the difficulties under which he labored, resulted in this excellent presentation.
Many of the members of the Barbizon school were experts; Jacque's famous etching, "La Bergene Béarnise," was crowned by the French Academy; Millet's insight into the factors that count as "The Woman with the Churn" or "The Gleaners." Corot evidently believed as Bjorkman that "Rules are made for those who do not think," His sylvan attempts never reached the fame that he made in color, and, although with a breadth and boldness that is fearless, in his "Environs du Rome" the primitive prevails. Rousseau, who wielded his pen with the vigor of a brush in "The Fisherman's Return" and Daubigny, in his "Ferryman" with the rift in the sky kindling an anaclastic glow of light in the background showing a reflex through the row of graceful trees, are distinguished for their merit and truth to nature.
Then L'Hermitte's realistic studies of peasant life, the talented Legros with his strong, vigorous "Passing Shower," the versatile Bracquemond's wild outdoor life of birds and animals, especially that entitled "The Hare," with its smooth surface texture, and Appian in his "Marais de la Burbanche," showing a bit of nature at twilight, calm and peaceful as the evening's quiet; but above and beyond them all is the irresistible Lalanne with his little genre gems, like epitomized impressions that gradually dissolve in the perspective; it matters not whether it is a stretch of beach - a record of harbors and quays or a gleam of rural landscape - they are all dainty, accurate, refined miniatures of which one never tires. He has a concentration of energy, subtle gradation of tone and supremely delicate blend that is scintillating and elegant. His "River Seine" is susceptible of much sentiment and feeling in its gentle, poetical lines, that one can live with always.
The "Vase Antique" of Jacquemart is the best example of still life known - the mirrored reflection is curious and unique. Lepere exhibits much skill and dexterity in his composition, rapidly sketched without loss of value in a way that is interesting. For vivacious, cheerful work with an elaboration of detail none excel Felix Buhot; even his "Little Funeral" is attractive, for it is real life, and there is Helleu with his pretty heads, if you like that kind of beauty, and Legrand's "Petites du Ballet," the same pleasing kind, while Rajon was a distinguished portrait etcher.
Of the Dutch-Flemish etchers, Van S'Gravesande is entitled to the highest place, and his plate, "The Entrance to the Forest," one of the strongest, most profound and best impressions it has been my good fortune to come across. Its vigorous lines, deep shadows and virile appearance throughout attract and concentrate one's attention immediately. Jongkind is somewhat of a dilettante with a tendency to impressionism. His sunset, "Antwerp," is a fair example, with a visible fulness of subject and repletion of line. Van Muyden, who hails from Switzerland, is a lover of wild animals and has chosen etching, in which he has been eminently successful, as the medium of exhibiting their natural habits and characteristics. In this "Bengal Tigers" all the fierce, wild nature of the beasts is brought out in carefully drawn, forceful master strokes.
The modern German school is represented by Georg Jahn's "Profile of a Maiden," marked with saintly expression and a warmth seldom attained; Gundelfinger's soft ground syncopated "Lowlands" distinguished for its resemblance to the stipple process, and Kühne's "Water Lilies" with a distinct, delicate touch.
Here is a lively, life-like glimpse of "Children at Play," with a young lamb gamboling at their heels - none but an Italian like Michetti could conceive anything so real and execute it so perfectly. The Austrian Unger's accuracy in reproduction is remarkable. His interpretation of the "Gold Weigher" is a magnificent study, Schmutzer is noted for his versatility, and for an original subject the Bohemian Orlik's "Japanese Woman" is unique. The Hungarians have Hubert's "Shepherd and His Flock" and Prihoda's "Those who Laugh," a fine plate.
At the head of the English school stands Seymour Haden. So much has been said in praise of his work that it would be impossible, by a lot of mere platitudes, to add anything to his reputation, suffice it to say that his "Shere Mill Pond" is generally conceded to be the masterpiece of etching. It is a noble effort at rivaling nature in one of its most picturesque attitudes; the combination of a pellucid pool, fringed with a dark foliage of reeds, reflecting the lengthening shadows of the tall poplars in the background, stirs a sensitive admiration and forms a picture never to be forgotten. It is full of sentiment, and the transposition of light and shade, in its suppleness and careful selection of line, seemingly playfully arranged, lends a rather fanciful mystery to the scene. In its completeness, it is a prophecy fulfilled and has a lasting finality that is soul satisfying.
Perhaps Ruskin, equipped with his thorough technical knowledge of art, is one of the most accomplished of English etchers. His "Pass of Faido" is a clear drawing of the Swiss Alps in light lines, without shadings or relief, a perfectly novel, harmonious plate that is certainly original in its treatment, but in which there seems to be something implied or lacking. Rodin, who has done some commendable sketches in black and white, like the charming "Printemp," for instance, states that "balance is the pivot of art," and that to me seems to be what is the matter.
The dominant note in Frank Short's "Low Tide" is simplicity; it is excellent in its distinct rejection of non-essentials and pure etching with but few significant strokes to outline the subject. It is fine in proportion and one of my favorites. While his style is unpretentious there is nothing superficial about it, but a sure sign of the mastery of the art. Chattock draws pleasing landscapes with winding rivers, castles and hills in the background, apparently for exhibition; his perspective is good but, altogether, he is rather conventional and conservative. Samuel Palmer's "Ploughman" is displayed in a low key and has all the splendors of a nocturne; it quite resembles an engraving, and is typical of all his efforts.
Brangwyn is colossal and powerful and certainly has struck a new note. He impresses one with his immensity in everything he undertakes - his structures are lofty and figures alive.
Scotchmen who have made good are William Strang with his figures, especially that entitled "The Orchestra" and D. Y. Cameron in his Meryonlike drawings. The "Rose Window" is superb and "Notre Dame-Dinant" a sacred analogy that inspires reverence. McBey is one of the coming men. Color has been attempted in etching with indifferent success - the "Tambourine Girl" of Le Rat is acknowledged the most brilliant representation.
Engraving, the translation, interpretation and reproduction in explicit text-book form of the masterpieces of art, is considered rather old-fashioned, still there are many enthusiastic collectors and connoisseurs interested in it with well-filled portfolios. It is of two classifications - the fine line, in which most of it has been executed, and the dot or stipple process of which Bartolozzi was the leading exponent. In this small collection are included "The Sleeping Cat" of Visscher of which Bryan states, "This plate has never been surpassed in the technique of line engraving," and Sumner calls it "corypheus of the art." "Napoleon" by Raphael Morghen, "Shakespeare" by Leopold Flameng, "L'Homme a L'Oeillet" by Gaillard, "Festival of Spring" by Bartolozzi and "Le Baiser" of Deblois Fils, all are satisfactory, skilful exhibits of the correlated versatility and magic influence that charms amateurs and professionals alike.
After studying the select European masterpieces in etching, the unlearned has a firm basis for his opinions, which, after all, are a mere matter of preference, and a standard for his judgment. While in America, we have not, as yet, risen to the high plane attained abroad, still we have done some very creditable work; but have not as yet established a national type removed from foreign buildings and bridges, and appear to be in the experimental stage, especially as far as printing is concerned. Borein of the West and Bernhardt Wall of the East seem to have struck original notes traced from native sources.
The most eminent etcher that America has produced is the eccentric Whistler, whose theories, according to his own estimate, were always right; at any rate, his concentrated effort has established him in the highest rank in the art world and his spontaneous output considered classics; while some are rather theatrical, there certainly is an ideal individuality about his plates that has created countless admirers. I have before me three - "Adam and Eve Inn," "Little Poultney," and "Flo." The first has a charming atmosphere, but his draughtsmanship is rather emphasized and an undue attention given to detail - quite the anti-thesis of his later work as instanced in the second one, "Little Poultney," where there are only a few essential lines full of quality and suggestion. Such satisfactory results could only be achieved after long apprenticeship to more elaborate attempts - this is really a good example of what he terms the "art of omission"; the climax, however, is reached in the figure of the young girl "Flo," with its thin, misty, emotional element, where he has expressed himself in a soft, vibrant tone that is ethereal and Whistler at his best.
Duveneck also has arrived and his work a credit to the nation. In the old Venetian houses on the Canal, his texture and delineations are wonderfully clever and realistic; these plates are very scarce. "The Gloucester Fish House" of Platt unquestionably comes next. Then we must not overlook the women; it needs no spirit of gallantry to praise "The Goose Pond" of Mary Nimmo Moran which has much elaboration and painstaking minutia, while the delicate lines and graceful curves of the feminine figures of Mary Cassatt are delightful in the extreme. The most original studies that have emanated from America are those of Anne Goldthwaite - her dancing girls are full of motion and fairly leap from the pages, while nothing yet has appeared quite like "Montmartre."
"The Sounding Sea" of Thomas Moran is something different. His treatment of the crest of rolling, foamy waves is intensely interesting and lifelike. The Cape Ann sketches of Stephen Parrish have been admirably done, but his "Mill Pond," with its dammed stream bordered on one side by the autumn foliage and the other by an old mill, is a glimpse of Arcady.
"A Rainy Day in Venice" by Otto Bacher, "An October Day" by Swain Gifford, and the veteran Smillie's "Good Night, and Sweet Dreams" are pulsating with sentiment and all too well known to need comment. The later productions of Joseph Pennell do not compare with his earlier work like this plate of "San Ghimignano," for instance, with its brilliant burst of light like a halo back of the ancient towers or his "American Venice." "Solitude" by Vanderhoof is the finest pure dry-point etching that has ever originated in the United States - the rugged grandeur of nature in its virgin state is impressive and well executed. Maclaughlin has made several graphic delineations of the Alps, while Plowman, Peter Moran and Andre Smith are all prominent and worthy of mention.
Of more recent Americans, there is nothing that surpasses the "La Port Guillaume" of Allen Lewis, with its vista of light through the dark archway; another plate of his of merit that is attractive for its deeply bitten burin is that of "An Old Woman Reading." William Levy in "The Patriarch's Prayer," Wood's "St. Jerome" and Nordfeldt's "The Jew of Tangier" are portraits in which the artists seemed to have breathed into their subjects the breath of life and among our best. "The Sisters" of Sturges shows skill and delicacy, while "Winter in Jackson Park," Pearson; "Sand-Dunes," Reed; "A Chinese," a distinct type, Wall, and "Midnight Duty," Higgins, are all of relative importance.
In our compilation a couple of Canadians, who should not be overlooked, are Frank Armington, with his "Portal am Rothaushof, Rothenburg," and Gagnon's "Sant Agostino Canal, Venice," full of poetry. Church's "Cold Morning, Sir," and Sloan's "Fifth Avenue Critics" cover the breezy, humorous field that always appeals to Americans.
On the Pacific Coast, the profession being in its infancy, the work, to a certain degree, has been rather inconsequential; this is simply an elementary phase, however, for there are many encouraging creditable productions that command favorable consideration; among them we have Partridge with his "Dancing Water," strong and broad; Harshe, "San Lorenzo," rather Whistleresque; Borein's distinctly western "Cowboys and Indians"; Borrough's "Bohemian Grove"; "Russian River," Lemos; Stackpole, Wilke, Pages, Piazzoni, Sparks, Partington and a number of others, besides Helen Hyde and Isabelle Percy with their pictorial colored prints, and Xavier Martinez and Perham Nahl's weird monotypes. Two superior plates, of men identified with California, are Washburn, who shows to advantage in the "Stone Bench, Borda Garden," and Haskill, "To the Southward."
One thing we have excelled in are our woodcuts - clear, soft, refined impressions with well-rounded easy flowing lines and broken folds; unfortunately, this does not enjoy the popularity of its sister art. F. S. King's "The Sorceress" is the classical beauty of them all; French's "Bedouin Girl," Wolf's "Morning Star," Cole's "La Matermite," Watt's "Russian Lady," and Wilhau's "Pirate's Cove" are ornamental as well as technical. The art is relished by those who appreciate its broad sphere and mystic elements.
If there is any criticism to be made of American etchers, it is that some of them, not all, are too prolific; with their eye more on the temporary dollar, than permanent reputation and where they produce too much, they cannot produce much good; therefore, there is little chance for mediocre, commercialized offerings to live.
We must not forget the art of Japan, for much of the inspiration of our foremost painters has been derived from these old prints and, omitting the exquisite rarities previous to 1800, those specially of such men as Hiroshige, Utamaro, Hokusai, Kaiyonaga and Harunobu all have a perfect unity and harmony and are full of the aesthetic and spiritual manifestations of nature. In making selections, one should be careful about the quality of the paper as well as perfection in the register. Lithographs, like mezzo-tints and aquatints, have received some attention from big men, more as a diversion however. Oliver Hall's "Moorland" is a fine modern specimen.
The process of etching consists of smearing a thin sheet of copper with a coating of wax and blacking it with smoke, through which the design is scratched with a sharp pointed steel, then the plate is placed in acid which eats or corrodes the exposed drawing. In dry point, no acid is used. Many amateurs have become enamored of the work and excel in it. Dr. Hayden, for instance, is ranked high above the professionals. The most delightful poetical definition of etching is that of Vosmaer:
"Know ye what etching is? It is to ramble