American Painters – Hovenden – Mosler – Millet – Duveneck – Thayer

POSSIBLY no picture has ever come closer to the hearthstone of our native American home than “Breaking Home Ties” (Fig. 59), by Thomas Hovenden (1840-1895) and owned by Mr. Charles C. Harrison, of Philadelphia. The spirit of the true pioneer is in it. The home is that of the typical farmer where the family is a unit. Each member, from the eldest to youngest, has been part and parcel in establishing the community centre the home and now has come the parting of the ways. The same spirit that prompted the parents to migrate is stirring in the boy. His visions are of a world beyond the farm, and the courage of youth urges him into the unknown. A wise mother is the little woman bidding her boy “God Speed.” He does not understand now the great heart-love that keeps back the tears, but all through the years he will feel the touch of those gentle, hard-worked hands and hear the tender words of parting. No obtrusive sentimentality mars the quiet reserve of the home-people, yet the spirit of sympathetic helpfulness is there. Hovenden, with a true artist’s instinct, has told artistically a story that speaks to humanity.

Thomas Hovenden’s death was a tragedy. Seeing a child in front of a moving train, he jumped and saved its life but he was killed instantly. The artist’s little son saw the accident and, not knowing his father was there, ran for a doctor, to find on his return that it was his own father. At one time the picture was on exhibition in Philadelphia, the proceeds being for the benefit of self-supporting students of the University of Pennsylvania.

As a story-teller in art, with pathos the dominant note, Henry Mosler (1841) took the public heart by storm in his “Prodigal’s Return” (Fig. 6o), Luxembourg, Paris. It is the old familiar story of the erring one’s repentance coming too late to give joy to the waiting parent. The artist has put into the kneeling figure grief, remorse, despair forgiveness is beyond his reach. Were it not for the beautiful, sympathetic face of the priest, who stands waiting for the first paroxysm to pass, the scene would be one of utter despair. But in that face we read the comfort that will heal the broken heart of the penitent. Little wonder that we linger before this picture in the Luxembourg Palace, for in it the artist has proved his artistic ability as well as his sincerity in dealing with a genre subject.

Another of Mosler’s most charming genre pictures is “A Wedding Feast in Brittany,” Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scene is an incident of real life in old France to-day and also verifies a bit of history in the white sheet hanging in the background. From time immemorial in Brittany the bride spins and weaves a sheet which is used on all special occasions, whether of joy or sorrow.

Henry Mosler was born in New York City, but spent his childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he had his first lessons in art. He went to Europe and studied in Düsseldorf, Munich, and Paris. That his work has been greatly appreciated, his medals and honours nearly a score of them from the art societies of Europe and America will testify.

Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912) had unusual talents in many directions. What is most unusual, he cultivated each talent to the point of a trained professional. Whatever came to his hand was done with the wholeheartedness of one who loved his work. It mattered little whether he was acting as a war correspondent, illustrating, writing fiction, travel and criticism, judging old pictures, raising carnations or amputating an arm; he did each with rare excellence. And he was an artist. His portraits alone give him a place of honour. Bayard Taylor, in 1878, said of Millet’s portraits of Charles Francis Adams and Mark Twain: “The figures are solid, they detach themselves immediately from the background, and are a refreshing contrast to the dim, vapory forms which some portraits give us.”

In genre painting Millet strikes a personal note that is most convincing. We feel in “The Cosy Corner” (Fig. 61), Metropolitan Museum of Art, the touch of one who loved that particular room. Special memories cluster around that fireside and that special corner. Possibly the home-warmth of “The Cosy Corner” helped comfort Millet as he stood on the sinking deck of the fated Titanic such holy memories bring us close to the Eternal Home.

Frank Duveneck was born across the Ohio River in Covington, Ky. (1848), but Cincinnati is the proud owner of a large number of his works. Mr. Duveneck, as an instructor in the Art Academy of Cincinnati, has trained and influenced numberless students of the Middle West who now stand as masters in the modern art of America.

It is no easy task to select special pictures to illustrate his work from among the many fine examples in the museum. Probably the most popular picture is the “Whistling Boy” (Fig. 62), selected by the artist himself as one of his gifts to the museum. The painting is signed with Duveneck’s unique monogram, followed by “Munich, 1872.” This little fellow is a German and he is the type of a whistling boy of any country or any clime. How naturally a poet, a musician or an artist drops into simple, direct and regular metre, rhythm or line when picturing the elemental in life. No one is interested specially in any-thing about this boy but the puckered red lips and the tune that comes from them. The boy’s listless attitude and dreamy eyes give the character of the music he is remembering and softly reproducing. We could never tire of that boy. His mellow whistle is of one already comprehending the philosophy of living. The sketch of the boy’s clothes proves that Mr. Duveneck understands impressionism, even in the extreme, but that he is master of it.

And that the artist could master details broadly, the “Flower Girl” (Fig. 63) is ample proof. Here again Mr. Duveneck chooses a typical figure from a typical class, only this time the class is confined to sunny Italy and the city where flowers that bloom in profusion give it its name. We will admit that the majority of the artist’s subjects are from foreign parts, but we are conscious that Frank Duveneck never loses his own identity in any of them. The flower girl is decidedly an Italian young woman, with all the characteristics of her race, yet we see her sitting on the wall through the eyes of Duveneck, the American artist.

It is of little consequence whether Albert H. Thayer (1849) puts wings on his women or not, for their purity envelopes them with invisible wings. “The Portrait of a Young Woman” (Fig. 64), Metropolitan Museum of Art, has an element of sacredness that grips our hearts. Her thoughtful, mature expression marks her innocence as that of knowledge she is in the world but not of it. Such a woman exemplifies Michael Angelo’s answer to the critics of Rome that the Virgin was too young in his Pieta. “Don’t you know,” he said, “that chaste women keep their youthful looks much longer than others.” Mr. Thayer’s large conception of womanhood lifts us from petty things into an atmosphere of truth possibly ideal, but always wholesome. His high standard is good, for he represents the sacredness of her mission in America.