American Painters – Beaux – Hawthorne – Cassatt

MISS CECILIA BEAUX literally forged her way to success. Nothing was too small for her to use in gaining a definite end. At first it was certain geological survey work, then china painting, then crayon portraits from photographs, and much of the time teaching, always gaining knowledge and applying it to her art. Completely absorbed in doing her best, whatever her task, inch by inch she gained power, and, in the words of William James, she suddenly became conscious that she was one of the competent ones of the world and that the world acknowledged her as a master-painter.

A master-painter Miss Beaux certainly is and never is she more masterful than in her portraits of young girls. Only an artist who was in perfect sympathy with the ambitions of girlhood could have painted “The Dancing Lesson” (Fig. 156), in the Richard Watson Gilder Home, New York City. These sisters, the daughters of the late Richard Watson Gilder, show the perfection of grace and naturalness. Could anything give a truer idea of sisterly solicitude than the older girl’s manner in leading the little one through the steps of the dance? The firm grasp of the little hand and the words of encouragement coming from her parted lips are reflected in the extended foot and pleased smile of the younger sister. We seem to hear the music of the dance and to see the poetry of moving figures as we stand before this charming group so perfect in its simplicity.

One of the most charming portraits in all American art is Miss Beaux’s “Ernesta” (Frontispiece), a late acquisition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The young woman is not unknown to us, for in 1896 she appeared, a tiny tot holding the hand of her nurse, in the Salon of Champ de Mars, Paris, together with “A New England Woman” and several others by Miss Beaux. Just here let me quote from M. Henri Rochefort, a prominent critic, who wrote of Miss Beaux’s portrait of Dr. Grier in the Salon of 1896: “I am compelled to admit, not without some chagrin, that not one of our female artists, Mlle. Abbema included, is strong enough to compete with the lady who has given us this year the portrait of Dr. Grier. Composition, flesh, texture, even drawing – everything is there, without affectation and without seeking for an effect.”

Miss Beaux painted Ernesta, her niece, with her nurse first and the latest one our own “Ernesta.” When Ernesta entered the gallery where she hangs in the museum, her personality asserted itself at once. She softened and harmonised and adjusted her surroundings, drawing all eyes to herself yet emphasising the beauty around her. She is lovely in her simplicity – alert and eager for life, yet with a poise of manner that brooks no liberties. This picture belongs in every girl’s school in America. It stands as an incentive to simplicity in dress, reserve, eagerness for the good things of life, and girlishness in manner. To say that the work is superb is to reiterate that Miss Beaux is a master-painter and that her pictures are masterpieces.

“A New England Woman” (Fig. 157), by Miss Beaux, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, one of the paintings exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1896, took the French people by storm. In acknowledgment of her talents she was given the honour of associate membership in the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts and four years later, after exhibiting in the Paris Exhibition, she was selected an associataire, a rare honour for a woman. Miss Beaux inevitably keeps in close sympathy with her sitters – she is not representing a type but a particular person. The article “a” gives exactly the idea, for though no name is given we feel that the New England Woman is some one the artist knew, and she has made us know her too. There is much that is New England, however, in this special woman. She may not live in the Eastern States but she has the air that marks the descendants of Puritan blood. This portrait be-longs to the earlier years of the artist’s work when she often made her pictures studies in white, black and grey – and she does now, for that matter. These studies show just the intimate quality that portrays character. This woman’s habit was white; she decked herself, her chair, her bed, her stand, her doorway in white because white suited her. The touches of colour that peep out at us are like flashes of humour that come unexpectedly in the conversation.

In the picture of the “Mother and Child” (Fig. 158), Museum of Fine Arts, Syracuse, N. Y., Charles W. Hawthorne is at his best, The young woman is a beautiful type of motherhood. The mystery of a new life lies in the depths of those wide-open eyes, yet she scarcely comprehends its meaning. She feels the pride of possession as never before, for a great responsibility is knocking at her heart; the faint smile of ownership is giving place to the awe that comes when the young mother first recognises that the child is her very own. How lovely is the wealth of midnight hair that like an aureola frames her face and how the tender colour of her robe emphasises the warm flesh and draws us very close to her! We love the baby.

Probably nothing that Mr. Hawthorne has done in the past or will do in the future will live more truly as a masterpiece than “The Trousseau” (Fig. 159), Metropolitan Museum of Art. The young girl is the embodiment of innocent wonder as to what the future means. She sees a mysterious land – a land filled with perplexing questions. She is to enter this land with the man she loves, and she trusts him. It is a solemn journey. The mother feels the responsibility of it, for she knows ; the daughter, dimly conscious, trusts.

Mr. Hawthorne has the rare quality of pleasing the public without lowering his standards. He makes us feel the intrinsic worth of his people ; they have like passions with us. One needs but watch the visitors stop before the painting of “The Trousseau” to understand that the pubic does appreciate the best in art. If Mr. Hawthorne is a “painter for the love of painting” he certainly paints many pictures that we all love.

There are little personal incidents connected with Mr. Hawthorne’s young days as an artist that endear him to us and help us to better understand his perception of the inner life of his sitters. One of these incidents had to do with his practice days at Shinnecock where Mr. William M. Chase was conducting his famous criticisms before a large and admiring class of students. Mr. Hawthorne’s enthusiasm for his chosen work was great, though he was not among the privileged ones to attend the distinguished teacher’s classes. One day, how-ever, he was sketching on the beach when Mr. Chase came swinging along. Not specially noticing young Hawthorne, but possibly thinking him one of his own students, he stopped and looking closely at the sketch, asked :

“Young man, why don’t you come to my criticisms ?” Mr. Hawthorne hesitated, probably not wishing to give the real reason, but Mr. Chase, in his quick nervous manner, added:

“Come to the next one,” and walked on. This was the desire of young Hawthorne’s heart. The Chase students soon understood the state of affairs and brought young Hawthorne to the next day’s criticism with his picture. He chose his seat in the corner on the topmost tier of benches, and looked down on the assembled students and the great teacher. It was Mr. Chase’s habit to put a canvas on the easel and call out, “Whose picture is this ?” The owner would stand up and then the criticism was given. On this day everything proceeded as usual until Mr. Chase put a special picture on the easel; instead of asking the usual question, he turned and faced the corner where Mr. Hawthorne sat. Raising his finger and pointing straight at him, he said:

“Young man, you’ll be a painter !” it was several minutes before the enthusiastic students were ready for the next criticism.

Mr. Hawthorne was a pupil of Mr. Chase and, like his master, is now an art teacher himself – one of the most noted in America. He has a home in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass. Mr. Hawthorne was born in Maine in 1872.

Possibly no American artist was more directly moulded artistically by Manet, the French impressionist, than Miss Mary Cassatt. But Manet’s moulding changed not one whit the native talent of the young painter. She simply responded to the seeking for essentials and when that idea was firmly grasped, together with the austerity of Degas, she began her work as a free agent in art, and is continuing her career as such.

No one for a moment would accuse Miss Cassatt of being an imitator after looking at her “Mother and Child” (Fig. 160) painted in 1904. Neither is she any less an American because they are French in a French park. Over and over again she pictures a mother and her child – the child a good, wholesome product of nature with every function in working condition and the mother alive to the needs of a healthy, growing young human animal.

We are conscious that Miss Cassatt has gained a certain independence with the passing years as we compare the “Morning Bath (Mother and Child),” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Fig. 161), painted the last of the nineteenth century, with the mother and child above. In the “Morning Bath” her modelling is harder and the colour harsher. But how well the sturdy little body, firm in its elasticity, shows the active power of growing muscles ! See how the little fingers grasp the mother’s gown and the toes stretch with the compelling force of growth. Fortunately, time is toning the vivid green background and rather cold surroundings into a delightful cosy corner of the nursery where centres the life of the mother and her child. One of the strong points, and there are very many of them, in Miss Cassatt’s paintings, is the ripening quality which develops with time.

The artist’s mastery in the technic of art and lier courage in working out her own problems in her pictures have given her a place of honour among artists. Although she persistently keeps motherhood before us, yet her reiteration never for one moment bores us, for each group is individual. The personality of the mother is always distinct and the colour and handling are ever adapted to the particular mother and the special child – every baby has its own personal magnetism and is not “just a baby like all others.” Miss Cassatt understands so thoroughly the muscular development of the growing child that her various pictures might well be adopted as models in the physical development of children. Then again look at the wholesome attitude of the mothers as she pictures them. How sane they are in instinctive tenderness and solicitude – a beautiful re-minder that motherhood, coeval with the beginnings of the race, demands the use of mother-hood function !

Miss Cassatt is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and has her home in France. We much regret that our young American mothers are not being immortalised by her brush, for we need her honest, truth-seeking eyes and her courage to picture for them the duty and joy of American motherhood. Mr. Melchers says : “Mary Cassatt, ah, there is a great artist ! She is a brilliant, intellectual woman, and stands at the head of the American women painters. I ad-mire her and her work extremely.