TEN American Painters separated them-selves from the National Academy in 1868 and began an unusual existence – if we may express it so – by exhibiting their paintings at the gallery of Durand Ruel, New York City. A few years later, through the kindness of Mr. Montross, they continued to exhibit at the Montross Gallery, New York City, for several years. Now, however, most of the men are again members of the National Academy and exhibit there, too.
The original men who formed this unique group were: Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Thomas W. Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, John H. Twachtman, Frank W. Benson, Edmund M. Tarbell, Robert Reid, Willard L. Metcalf, and Edward E. Simmons. In exhibiting together these artists were forming no organization with rules and regulations and governing members – rather the contrary. They repudiated all suggestions of following special tendencies in the selection of works – perish the thought ! They have emphatically refused the article “The” in designating the group, and have simply continued to exhibit together these nearly twenty years as friends and lovers of independent work founded on truth. In writing about these men, “Ten American Painters” makes a convenient chapter heading and possibly the public is remembering them better under this title. After Mr. Twachtman died in 1902 Mr. Chase was elected to take his place.
We recognise that it takes a peculiar kind of wisdom to strike into hitherto untrodden paths and wander far afield without losing the fundamentals of the old ways. Ten American Painters and a few others have that wisdom and, while some have fallen by the way, they are still binding the old and the new into an art that prophesies much for America.
Mr. Childe Hassam was born in Boston in 1859. From 1889, when he was awarded the bronze medal at the Paris Exposition, until the present time his art has received nearly a score of medals and prizes as tokens of approbation from the critics of Europe and America. Probably the fact that Mr. Hassam is not only a genius but a thoroughly trained craftsman is the secret of his success. No artist stands out more prominently among the Independents of the so-called Impressionist school than Mr. Hassam. His personality is behind the modus operandi of all his pictures.
The “New York Window” (Pig. 126), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., is one of a number of similar paintings in which the artist doubtless is dealing primarily with light and its effect on the various objects, but personally we cannot look at the young woman as simply an object. She is far too individual for that. To one at all familiar with New York City houses and their high narrow-paned windows that catch the full light of the sky, this picture will touch a responsive chord. Only an artist with the sensitive appreciation of the effect of light that Mr. Hassam has could have originated these unique pictures. Who has used this theme in like manner – given a girl, a dish of fruit or spring blossoms, a round table, a city window and light and colour? One American critic says of Mr. Hassam’s daring methods and originality : “I am inclined to believe that the amazing satisfaction of his art can best be explained by the ac-curacy of his accentuation, the perfection of his emphasis in colour. That he is a master of colour we frankly admit, though at times we are stupefied and turn away feeling that he is beyond us. Not so with this lovely picture. The New York window has taken on a new character since Hassam has shown it to us.”
“Spring Morning” (Fig. 127), Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, is a picture that is tantalising in its hint of the rebirth of animate things. The thoughts that are stirring in the young woman – or is it in our own mind ? – are fraught with intense feeling. Not even the birds skimming across the screen are more intent. A dreamer is she? yes, but a spring dreamer where all is possibility. Light and air caress the canvas until colour and form have become component parts with them and the whole picture sings in harmony, but without loss of solidity, the quality that the later in-dependents are gaining.
If Mr. Hassam meant to convince the world that shades in colour exist which only the artist, with his trained eye, can reveal, he has proved his point, just as he has convinced the world in every new theory he has advanced. We have followed him with delight as he pictured the “New York Window” and “Spring Morning,” and now in “The Church at Old Lyme” (Fig. 128), Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, gives us another phase of his art. Interesting? of course it is. That church is so typically New England ; its tall spire, Ionic columns and plain whiteness are much like many a historic American church that to-day is being repaired and reclaimed as belonging to Colonial days. How we are fostering the old to gain a past for ourselves! But this church at Old Lyme may or may not be ancient. The trees that shelter it so lovingly are mere striplings, but no carved choir screen was ever more lacy or delicate in pattern than they, The light sifting through the interlacing branches and fluttering leaves has gathered into itself all the tints of the autumn and has left its delicious colour on every object. Can you not hear the chimes ring out on the clear air or the clock striking its note of warning that time is fleeting? Look ! the people are gathering – the dry leaves crackle under their feet – the young people glance shyly at each other as the parents cordially grasp each other’s hands – strains from the organ summon all to enter-a hush, then the congregation breaks forth,
“Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love.”
Silence – the minister prays ! Yes, the spirit of worship is in this Church at Old Lyme.
If it is true that Mr. Hassam uses his figures simply to play upon them in his marvellous rendering of nature, he certainly gives them such vitality that the place would be void without them. Even in “The Caulker” (Fig. 129), Cincinnati Museum, the man attracts us, small though his part in the picture may be, not be-cause he is human but because there is some-thing vital in his being there at all. Again colour to Mr. Hassam is a real, an innate power. He is really “creating design by means of colour,” says one critic.
Possibly one of the most striking features, if we may call them such, of the modern American artist is his choice of subjects. Again and again it is some special aspect of the great mechanical problems that face the world. In “The Caulker” the great hulk of the ocean vessel hints at the tremendous traffic on the seas; the pictures of the Culebra cut suggest the open waterway between the continents ; the many paintings of the night furnaces of Pitts-burgh tell of the great industries that govern nations. Then, too, there are the pictures of river dredging, the building of bridges, the digging of tunnels, and the laying of railroad tracks. We do not say that the artist chooses his subject for any other reason than artistic value, but we do believe that the dignity of labour has no better exponent than the artist when he helps the public to see beauty in the work of everyday life. Mr. Kreisler, the eminent violinist, was right when he said recently : “I believe that art is to be the uplifting power in America.”
“The Portrait” (Fig. 130), Museum of Fine Arts, Syracuse, by J. Alden Weir, is specially interesting to us as a likeness of the artist’s daughter. It is difficult to decide when Mr. Weir is at his best, in portraiture or landscapes. We feel like saying of his paintings as Gainsborough said of the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, “How various he is.” Syracuse is fortunate in owning examples in both branches of Mr. Weir’s art. Again note that it is the simplicity of the composition, tempered with a self-restraint that has eliminated everything but the essentials, that charms us. The arrangement of the hair, the gown, the pose – all are in perfect harmony. There is no catering to the ultra-modiste that savours of the ridiculous, either in artist or subject.
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Mr. Weir’s “Red Bridge” (Fig. 131) – an iron bridge thrown across the Shetucket River, Windham, Conn. Was anything ever more picturesque ? And notice how exquisitely decorative it is. It has the quality of a bit of old lace that adds charm to an elegant gown. Mr.
Weir, born at West Point in 1852, was first a pupil of his father, Robert W. Weir, then of the National Academy of Design, New York City. He went to Paris and studied under Gérôme in École des Beaux-Arts. He now lives in New York City and is president of the National Academy of Design-elected to fill the place of Mr. Alexander who resigned just before his death.
Mr. Thomas W. Dewing, a native of Boston, 1851, was trained largely in the Julian Academy, Paris. His paintings have a quality of their own, so insistent that when once felt it is impossible to overlook. His pictures are like letters from a personal friend; each one is distinct, and yet each has the familiar phraseology of the writer. In “Writing a Letter” (Fig. 132), Museum of Art, Toledo, the element of aloofness at first almost says “stand off,” but the soft persuasiveness of the enveloping atmosphere holds us as it also holds these two figures in the perfect design. There is no emptiness in that room, yet we frankly aver that a real room so bare as that would be empty; even the personality of two women could not illuminate it and make it palpitate as has Mr. Dewing with his magic brush.
His women are exquisite in dainty gowns of soft material and tender colours, and their exquisiteness is that of women used to selecting beautiful apparel, rather than fragile women with no power of endurance. Look at these two in “Writing a Letter.” They have square shoulders, with well-developed muscles, and finely poised heads and no superfluous flesh to interfere with the full use of the nervous temperament that is the American woman’s special asset. A nervous temperament is some-thing to be desired, but the “Oh, I am so nervous !” habit is to be shunned as one would fight a wasting disease. The first can remove mountains; a mole-hill overcomes the second.
Possibly we might be better pleased if Mr. Dewing would always represent a robust type of American womanhood in his paintings. “The Lady with the Macaw” (Fig. 133), Al-bright Art Gallery, Buffalo, is a delicate, lovely woman and probably has the nervous energy that would outstrip many of her plumper sisters, yet a wholesome, pink-fleshed woman is not only a pleasing picture but holds possibilities of great reserve force. We love the soft hazy atmosphere Mr. Dewing knows so well how to use in developing his delicious tones. His colour is like that of ripe fruit, mellow and illusive. How the rich, warm blood of the American girl of to-day glows under his atmosphere and colour; and how she gains in dignity and poise in his compositions so full of strength and repose! We are re-minded in many of his paintings of what Mr. Kenyon Cox says : “Horizontal lines will suggest repose; vertical lines will suggest rigidity and stability; curved lines will convey the idea of motion.” Our artists need to give our American women just these qualities if they are to keep abreast of the wholesome, well-trained, up-to-date woman and represent her as she is in her true womanhood.
Joseph R. DeCamp was a pupil of Duveneck (see page 102), and naturally his work savours of Munich. This, however, does not detract from his own manner of expressing himself in his work. In the “Silver Waist” (Fig. 134) he shows a strength in handling his subject that marks the ease with which he obtains results. Mr. DeCamp inspires confidence because he is perfectly sure of himself. His foundation was well laid and he never fumbles at his work. Not always are his compositions interesting, especially those where his women are holding vases or cups up to the light. It is one thing for the doctor, in Dou’s “Dropsical Woman,” to hold his beaker to the light and another for a woman, with no earthly reason, to hold a glass to the light. The pose is strained, to say the least.