IN no country has nature specialised more efficiently than in the United States. Between the glaciers of Alaska and the ever-glades of Florida she has wrought natural wonders and emphasised abundance and sterility of the nth power. Not often, however, have our artists sought out the unusual – unusual only because of our ignorance – for subjects of their art. So it is with peculiar interest that we enjoy the “Silver Clouds, Arizona” (Fig. 162), by Albert L. Groll (1866). Until Mr. Groll began to picture Arizona, under the varying conditions of wind and weather, we have never realised the artistic possibilities of the desert lands of that marvellous state.
The broad, low country, with its sage brush, bunch grass and cacti clinging close to the arid yellow soil, stretches away to the horizon and over it hovers a sky full of silvery clouds, making a never-to-be-forgotten picture. Deserts these plateaus certainly are until man comes with his irrigating plant, then “the desert shall blossom like the rose.” Mr. Groll never makes a hopeless desert out of his Arizona scenes. No, he gives an undertone of gold and silver that sparkles and shimmers on bush and sand and cloud, suggesting boundless wealth. We feel that these desert scenes are as truly God’s great out-of-doors as the mountains and the fruitful valleys.
Mr. Groll, born in New York City, where he now lives, was largely trained in Munich. He is represented in many of our large galleries and has been recognised by honourable mention, medals and prizes in America and Europe.
Three hundred years ago Nicholas Poussin painted landscapes largely as settings for his classical figures, and to-day our American idyl-lists are showing much the same spirit. Having the advantage, however, of three centuries of training in landscape painting, they are evolving pictures so full of the joy of living that they seem all but true to life. Nothing could be more ideally beautiful as a piece of decoration than Frederick Ballard Williams’ “Summer” (Fig. 163). Never were shades of colour more exquisite – flesh and gowns, lapping tide and floating clouds, rocks and mosses blend as harmoniously as instruments in an orchestra. Mr. Williams is sounding a note, with his Venetian figures set in a modern landscape, that is decidedly attractive to the lay public. They probably do lack the rugged strength of the insurgents who are crowding out the weaklings, but they hold their own and sweeten art with their charm.
Surely a fairy has touched Miss Lillian Genth with its magic wand and then trans-ported her to some woodland dell where only fairies dwell. Not that this “Woodland Pool” (Fig. 164), Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, N. Y., cannot be found on this old earth of ours, but it has taken Miss Genth, with her “vital, optimistic, stimulating” art, to find it for us. Over and over she draws us aside from the work-a-day world into lovely wood-land retreats and there quiets and soothes our overheated brains. Her nude figures, breathing a wholesome sane joy, are as much a part of the secluded dell as the trees, the pool and the sky. How empty this retreat would be without the warmth of the lovely vision in the flesh ! The light playing upon the healthy form is like the wind playing upon the swaying branches.
When Miss Genth firt posed a nude figure out-of-doors in Brittany, and the light played over the pink-tinted surface, she found the key that unlocks a new world to us. And later, under the brilliant American light, she fitted her key and unlocked the secret of sunlight playing upon vital human flesh. Her figures in the open and beside the waters and under the spreading branches have assumed the character of an autograph and, like the latter, can never grow monotonous to those who love them. Miss Genth is already represented in many of our public museums.
One of the younger artists of to-day who has struck an original note is Jonas Lie (1880). He is original not so much in the choice of subjects, for others have used much the same, but in his manner of treatment. We have again an artist who sees the poetry of labour, but he sees it fron an angle all his own. At first we might think his individuality is due to the section of the country he has chosen – he has painted many pictures of the Panama Canal section – but in the “Morning on the River” (Fig. 165), Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, the same personal note is there. The sense of depth and height in both the “Morning on the River” and the “Culebra Cut,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, is that of strength and durability and also emphasises the power of man’s mind to overcome great natural obstacles.
Now look at “The Conquerors” (Fig. 166) as the Culebra Cut is often called, and see how the bigness of the idea has gripped the artist. He thinks big artistic problems and, unafraid, places those problems before us. Height and depth lose nothing of their mystery, nothing of their impelling force, and yet both are brought under the dominating power of man and both are compelled to yield and become servants in his hands. The marvellous steel-blue atmosphere binds and rivets into perfect symmetry the stupendous problem. Nothing seems insignificant. The cars moving in the depth of the cut, the men toiling up the grade, the cranes lifting the loosened dirt are all significant and necessary parts of the great scheme.
Mr. Lie saw not only the possibility of perpendicular lines in his days with the sky-scraper and Brooklyn Bridge, but his artistic skill grew with his expanded vision. Not al-ways do our artists keep pace in their means of expression with the extended visions of country and development. Too often bombast kills where simplicity would have lived. Mr. Lie’s keen sense of the essentials of big things is the quality that holds us. His perfect mastery of the thing he is representing compels our attention and appeals to our understanding. Not that our aesthetic sense is unstirred, far from it. Who can stand before Culebra Cut and not feel a glow of pleasure in the harmony of col-our and line and in the feeling of being initiated into the big things of life? Surely Jonas Lie has a message and a vision that are true and noble.
There is a wonderful charm in his straight lines – they give such stability to his compositions, and the strange glamour of light and shade and steel-blue colour grips us like steel girders. We feel almost under the power of some titanic monster, only that the pale light creeping in lifts us as it follows the straight columns of smoke reaching skyward and glints the scuttling clouds with ever-varying tints. The artist’s early training under Brooklyn Bridge and beneath skyscrapers has given him an astonishing insight into the artistic value of vertical lines.
Mr. Lie’s pictures are found in many of the galleries over the country. In fact, the public is recognising that Mr. Lie has come to stay. He was born in Norway, but most of his training was gained in the National Academy of Design and Arts Students’ League in New York City.
Albert Leon Kroll is recording big achievements in the mechanical world, and his records are not simply of material building. Into “Building New York” (Fig. 167) has entered the soul of the builder as well as his brain. Mr. Kroll has a vision of big things and also the power to visualise on canvas commensurate with the bigness of his theme. One cannot look long at “Building New York” without feeling the sense of elation. He lifts one into loftier conceptions, not because of the height of the structure, but because the lines lead sky-ward. The labourers are not necessarily earth-bound, for the placing of every stone and brick and iron girder is a necessary link in the completed building. Their skill alone has made possible the realisation of the architect’s vision.
Mr. Kroll, with strong, vigorous brush-strokes, is giving a solidity and worthwhileness to his construction-pictures that stand for bet-ter things in the world of labour. The “River Front” (rig. i68) has the smell of fishing smacks, steam tugs, river barges, warehouses and long-shore’s men true to the activities of any waterfront. Interesting? Of course it is! Life among these rough, raw materials is reduced to the simplest elements, and Mr. Kroll knows how to represent the strong, firm essentials of life.