THE honour of being an instructor in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and the double honour of the Temple Gold Medal and the Stotesbury thou-sand dollar prize belong to Joseph T. Pearson, Jr., who is presenting nature to us from a new angle. “But it is Japanese !” I hear you exclaim. Yes, a little in its general character but perfectly Occidental in spirit. “By the River” (Fig. 211) would never be mistaken for an Oriental scene. Those ducks have never crossed the Pacific Ocean – they belong nearer home than that; and that scraggy tree trunk and those bent branches covered with flat grey lichens are too familiar objects to belong to Japan. And again in another of his paintings, “On the River,” the picture that took the above medal and prize, we feel originality in the arrangement of the ducks guarded by the gnarled trunk and one broken branch.
Now stop again “By the River” and see how the decorative quality of the picture pleases the eye. The canvas is bare of objects almost to desolation except for faint whispering of habitation across the river and in the tiny boat beneath. It in indescribable – the something that makes this a picture. Four ducks, a scraggy tree trunk, a bit of water worn rock and a hazy beyond are not very suggestive of picture value, yet to Mr. Pearson they were just the elements needed to build into a thing of beauty. It is only when decoration is subordinated to the principles of art that it be-comes a joy forever.
Then, too, the sentiment in Mr. Peterson’s picture is wholesome and true. One of the most healthful signs of progress in most of our young artists is the glad, hopeful undertone that, like a gold thread, binds the pictures to our hearts. When their independence is that of men and women who think clearly because they are learning to exercise a just sense of proportion, then that independence results in good art. A just sense of proportion is a cardinal virtue in any walk of life. It is the ability to select and eliminate in working out problems until the final results have harmony of purpose that works for the progress of humanity. When, therefore, a picture lifts the mind from the sordid into the realm of hope and joy the message has been one of strength.
Mr. Pearson had the good fortune to study under William M. Chase and J. Alden Weir, two men who for years have stood for a progress that steadily leavens the whole of life. Possibly the fact that Mr. Pearson was born in the Centennial Year, 1876, in Germantown, may account for the stirrings of genius in him. Is it a mere coincidence that so many of our young men and young women who are doing worth while things to-day are products of 1876?
When an artist treats old themes with a peculiar twist that is original yet devoid of conscious striving for effect the public is interested, even if it is mystified. That Augustus Vincent Tack’s (1870) art is pregnant with great thoughts and noble aspirations none will question. His conception of such themes as “Eve,” “The Thief on the Cross,” “Eternal Motherhood,” and others are of the deep undertones of life. We feel dimly that his own inner self is communing with these fundamentals, yet his method sometimes fails in its convincing power – in other words his modus operandi does not seem commensurate with the bigness of his thought. That pure colour laid in mosaic does melt into a harmonious whole at a distance is not sufficient of itself to make that method an entire success. Mr. Tack fortunately is an honest seeker, who we believe is developing something of real value to artists out of his use of pure pigments – often applied directly from tube to canvas.
There is always a sense of the mysterious about Mr. Tack’s pictures, a haunting vastness of height and distance. “The Sea of Hills” (Fig. 212) vibrates with the music of the spheres. The “mystery of beauty and the beauty of mystery” are in these everlasting hills as they rise and fall with the heart throbs of the eternal. There is a steadying quality in the quiet power of the undulating mass that speaks to our souls. Surely a thousand years were but as a watch in the night in evolving this sea !
Over and over again Mr. Tack deals with elemental forces in his art. And if, like Daniel Webster, he can simplify his expression of them so that the veriest rustic will say to him : “You are not very great, for I understand every word you say!” then will he be a master.
It is a pleasure to find a young artist painting pictures of historical significance with such pictorial value that they are interesting and attractive. Charles F. Bittinger made a dar ing choice when he pitched his tent at Versailles and set up his easel in the old palaces.
Naturally the very name Versailles suggests a long array of people and events covering nearly four centuries in the life of the French nation. From the time when Louis XIII (1624) reclaimed the swamp and built the central part – cour de marbre – through its enlargement by Mansart to accommodate 10,000 guests for Louis XIV, down to the present that particular spot, twelve miles south of Paris, has been in the public eye. It has stood for the French renaissance in literature, music and art of the seventeenth century as well as for its wars, intrigues and licentious living.
True, Mr. Bittinger is not painting the Versailles interiors from a historic standpoint, yet one cannot look at “Madame du Barry” (Fig. 213), for instance, without being re-minded of her baleful influence on Louis XV and that “her very presence was a stain upon Versailles.” For two years Mr. Bittinger painted in this vast storehouse replete with beautiful finishings of rare marbles, semi-precious stones and exquisite bits of hand work. Over all the pictures lingers enough of the spirit of the past to pique one’s curiosity and add interest to the joy one feels in their beauty. –
Mr. Bittinger, born in Washington, D. C., has distinguished himself also in his pictured interiors of many of our American homes of wealth. His appreciation of beauty has a selective quality that enables him to detach sections of a whole and make of them complete pictures.
When Lester Boronda painted “The Fandango” (Fig. 214) he gave a sense of motion that is almost uncanny in its aliveness. The young woman sways and glides as one under the spell of alluring music and an admiring crowd. There is nothing of pose, nothing to suggest arrested action, just a rhythmic abandon where the whole being is attune to the spirit of motion. The hooped skirt has scarcely stopped swinging or the shaking tambourine its tinkling. The twinkling colours sparkle and glitter until we are made to feel the very essence of joy in the dance.
Mr. Boronda,, born in California, and a number of other young American artists are coming to the front with strong individual work full of the harmony of good art. Modern? Of course they are! But their modernity is tempered with sufficient common sense to steady them and help them realise that new movements must be governed by a proper sense of proportion. Monstrosity in art is no more true art than monstrosity in nature is true nature.
A roomful of Jane Peterson’s pictures fairly intoxicates one with colour and yet she seldom sets her pallette with more than three colours. Many of the hues separately would be startling in vividness, yet under her manipulation they are playing hide and seek with the shadows and gloom. Miss Peterson’s whole nature is attune to the colourfulness of nature. She has been absorbing varying colour schemes for years in her travels north and south from Alaska to Africa, west and east from California to Italy, staying long enough in each place for the changing seasons to express themselves. She makes one feel the rich, dusky, sun-kissed native of the tropics, and, again, the ice-king compels us to draw our fur closer before the row of shanties bordering the ocean front or hugging the foot of the snow mountains.
It is when Miss Peterson takes the water-front of some old coast towns along the Atlantic and shows us life in the living among the sturdy folk of the sea that she warms our hearts. Could anything bring us closer to human beings, whether summer-resorter or those of the homes near by, than the hurrying people of “A Busy Street” in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard (Fig. 215 ? It has been raining.
The wet street catches the glint of the bright costumes and laughs gaily in the very faces of the old houses. And what delicious faces they have, lemon-yellow, rose-pink and dull grey ! And what a sense of stability they give to the otherwise restless scene ! Straight lined and square bodied they stand like soldiers at attention. And the converging wires across the corner opposite, how they liven the solidity of facts with the gossip of trifles !
At one time Miss Peterson devoted much time painting gardens until her grasp of nature’s prodigality under encouragement gave a perfect tangle of growth and luxuriance of colour notes. To keep pace with the artist’s variety of subjects, one must follow in her wake as she travels. She is also equally at home in working in oil or water colours, though the former medium gives a feeling of stability against the ravages of time.
Miss Peterson is a native of Elgin, Illinois, and received her initial training in her art in America and then began her travels abroad. It was her good fortune to have F. Hopkinson Smith as a friend while she was in Venice, and, later in Spain, to work with Sorolla. In the latter she found a congenial artistic spirit and with him, though her own tendencies were already well established, she gained a feeling of confidence in herself that has been invaluable. We shall watch eagerly the development of Miss Peterson’s art. She has struck a note that is simple and understandable to the public.
Let us stop a moment and look into “The Opera Lobby (Fig. 216) as painted by Theresa Bernstein. The artist came one day, bought her ticket expecting to enjoy the opera, but the lobby held her – and no wonder. She has made us see it. I doubt if you or I would have seen it without her help. “Composition, design and colour,” Miss Bernstein says, are the three necessary attributes for her to see a picture in embryo. Now look again at the lobby. The door in the background with the artificial light behind it, the stairway leading to balconies, the open space, all form the composition as a whole. The grouping of people, two men at the left, a man and a red-headed woman, a couple climbing the stairs, all are held together by a one tint floor covering like a pattern for a tapestry design. Then the weaving in and out of the colour problem ! The men at the right, in black, on the red car-pet, the shimmery pink and white woman in the décolleté gown, the sparkle of the electric light through the door-glass delight the mind like a delicious taste to the tongue. Beyond all, however, is the human element, the vital touch that binds the group together and brings it in close touch with us. We recognise that the two men are talking stocks in Wall Street vernacular rather than about the opera, that the man at the left is ingratiating himself into the good graces of the red-headed woman, that the people on the stairs are finding them rather long and steep – in fact, a certain haunting familiarity pervades the scene.
Miss Bernstein loves scenes where people gather by common consent. She loiters in the ticket-office, in the elevated train, and particularly among the crowd gathered at the beach. Of these beach scenes she has painted a score or more. She uses the restlessness of the crowd and the ceaseless motion of the ocean as under-tones giving life to the whole. One feels the constant shifting of position that is so characteristic of people on the beach. This moving crowd might of itself be irritating were it not that the artist has tempered it all with the restful sky line and gently swaying clouds. Miss Bernstein is a native of Philadelphia and studied painting in the American art schools ; she then travelled in Europe. Though quite young, she already has a broad grasp of fundamental principles in art.