WHEN George Inness, Jr., began his career as an artist and worked in his father’s studio in New York, he very soon claimed recognition as a painter of animals and a painter, too, who understood the spirit of the animals he represented. Rochester is fortunate in possessing one of his finest paintings of cattle, “Bringing Home the Cows” (Fig. 93). In this picture we feel his inherent love of evening when moist clouds hang low and a soft radiance fills the air. That poetic instinct for “all phases of the ever-varying atmosphere and all phases of illumination” of the elder Inness is the inheritance that has given power to the son. Mr. Inness’ warm sympathy for the life of the great out-of-doors is that of the men of 1830 in France, but with an added note, aspiration, to the tillers of the soil. A stiffness is in the backbone of the American farmer that lifts the head skyward. If he does not reach the goal himself, his children will. And the brisk step of the toiler ! See how he expresses the eager home-coming of man and beast at the end of the day of toil. How full of sentiment is this prosaic scene, and why not?
Horatio Walker, a Canadian by birth (1855), is nevertheless an American artist. He is our Millet in painting. The workers of the soil have gained new beauties from his brush ; they are not French peasants, but men and women; the new world has opened wide the doors of opportunity and a new hope has entered into their lives. Mr. Walker always preserves that sense of fitness in his figures which is the true test of harmony. We feel in the “Wood Sawyers” (Fig. 94), City Art Museum, St. Louis, the rhythm of well-balanced workers, where work is done with the least energy.. The rapidly falling sawdust shows no hitch in the moving blade. Of course it is a homely scene, but full of the feeling of home comfort. The increasing pile of wood hints at the comfort of a good kitchen fire; then, too, the men work with the steady purpose of those having a vision of home before them. Mr. Walker uses the rough clothes of the sawyers and the varied angles of the blocks of wood as so many radiating surfaces for the light.
The rich low tones of his canvases are like a harmony on the bass notes of an organ.
George Inness, Jr., and Horatio Walker make their landscapes largely a setting for animal life. In other words, they picture the close relationship that exists in America between the farmer’s home and his fields and his livestock. In fact all our landscape artists treat the farm as a home centre by itself as opposed to the community centre with surrounding farms of the old world.
How perfectly Mr. Ben Foster (1852) has brought this idea out in his “Summer Day” (Fig. 95). The home by the roadside is the heart of the broad fields and dense wood-land. No one knows better than Mr. Foster how to interpret the luxuriance of summer vegetation. Even the quiet water has the content of well-deserved rest as it laughs at the fleecy clouds stopping long enough to primp in its surface. Yes, the heat of summer is in the air, but it is the growing heat that nature uses in preparing her winter stores.
Possibly just for bodily comfort we would rather follow this tiny stream into the “Woods Interior” (Fig. 96) with Mr. Carlsen, but the cosey farmhouse and the summer abundance linger with us still. Although Mr. Emil Carlsen (1853) is a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, he gives the spirit of America in his pictures. These tall, slender trees pushing their bare trunks skyward that their branches and leaves may reach the sun and air are typical of the second growth of our temperate climate. See how each tree, regardless of its position on the sloping bank, has gained its birthright; and how together the tops of the trees form a broad level expanse to the open sky.
Mr. Carlsen calls us strongly with these sun-lit trees seeking the blue sky. We feel the colourfulness and scent the perfume of the wood’s interior. Such scenes are wholesome tonics to the heart and brain.
In Alexander Van Lear’s (1857) “Autumn” (Fig. 97) the security of summer has given place to the spirit of destruction. The hustling wind mercilessly strips the trees bare, rudely shakes the feathery banners from the tall grasses and scuttles the clouds in breathless haste. Flowers and leaves and clouds are flying hither and yon, but, oh, the riot of colour that flaunts itself in the face of the rushing onslaught! Mr. Van Lear has caught the vandal in the very act of destruction. The glory of autumn tints was never more lovingly blended with the living green of summer than in the middle clump of trees, or more triumphantly flung to the wind than in the brighter trees at the left.
William L. Lathrop (1859) certainly knew how to make a stretch of level country interesting when he painted “The Meadows” (Fig. 98), Metropolitan Museum of Art. One who has once seen the salt meadows of New Jersey when the low luminous sky as a great reflector illuminates marsh sedges, juicy pasture grasses and pools of water, recognises that the artist is telling the truth. It matters not where these particular meadows are, they carry the impress of all dank lowlands receding inland into patches of pasturage with straggling trees leading to firmer ground.
As Mr. Lathrop was born at Warren, in the northern part of Illinois, he no doubt knew well the flat section around Lake Michigan. But whether painting marshy swamps or mountain highlands, Mr. Lathrop ever holds to a definite portrayal of nature as he sees her. His strong lines and pleasing colour give a sense of security, though at times he loses something of the caressing quality of the atmosphere.
When Elliott Daingerfield (1859) stood on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina he perceived with spiritual eyes what we simply see with a natural vision. To record a phenomenon so evanescent as a “Slumbering Fog” (Fig. 99), Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a mountain valley is to fix in our minds a wonderful vision of one of nature’s condensing plants. Yes, the fog is asleep; its form rises and falls regularly as in slumber, but it will wake soon ; then great gaps will tear asunder the huge mass until it falls away, exhausted and spent. Mr. Daingerfield knew well, when he brought the bear into the foreground, that we must be steadied, or the mere horror of that slumbering monster would draw us into its depth. What a marvellous studio that was ! It is given to few artists to see such a vision and to fewer still is given the genius to record it.
To describe autumn as Bruce Crane (1857) pictures it is about as impossible as implanting the song of a lark into the heart of one who has never heard it. He has literally stolen the entire sodium line from the spectrum, the thief, and has worked it into his pigments until his “Autumn Uplands” (Fig.100), Metropolitan Museum of Art, challenges the sun itself in radiance. And what a luscious yellow it is, restrained yet overflowing with the joy of fruitage! The ripened grasses on the low hills and shallow basins have taken the mellowed hue of hammered gold. And the corded wood – how quickly our minds fly to open fire with roasting apples and popping chestnuts !
Though Mr. Crane was born in New York City, he has inherited somewhere along the line a keen understanding of nature. He gathers into his autumn scenes the essence that underlies the coming of fall in the cycle of the year. We feel in these pictures the influence of something completed the drooping of the full ears of corn, the bending of the wheat heads on their slender stalks. He may not be specialising in a particular phase of nature, like his master, Alexander Wyant, yet his name brings to mind at once the glow of the field because the harvest is come.