American Painters – Robinson – Harrison – Brush – Melchers – Marr – Tanner

IT seems a great pity that Theodore Robinson’s (1852-1896) career was cut short at forty-four. He was one of the men who, under the influence of his personal friend Claude Monet in Paris, grasped the underlying principles in the new movement the effect of light and air gained through light shadows and bright colours without losing the qualities that make a pleasing picture. He had the common sense to understand that many old art tenets still held good even if new ones were being discovered, and his originality taught him how to combine the new and the old to advantage. “In the Sun” (Fig. 65) gives no evidence of a struggle between contending factions; rather it breathes contentment and satisfaction. It is a veritable lyric of light.

When Thomas Alexander Harrison (1853) painted “Castles in Spain” (Fig. 66), Metropolitan Museum of Art, he proved not only his originality in dealing with scenes in the full sunlight but his understanding of boy-nature as well. This picture grips us with its invigorating salt air, its vitalising sun bath, its wholesome boy life, and its intimation of the great expanse of water and sky. The big out-of-doors is ours and all our dreams are realised in the shell castle on the sand.

Mr. Harrison studied with Gérôme in Paris, but his work is far beyond the lessons of any teacher. He sees nature with perceiving eyes and helps us to see her, too. Big enough in himself to profit by the eccentric methods of those artists in Paris who were evolving a new art in their close study of nature, he never loses his sense of proportion. To him, as to all heart artists, a picture must reach the heart of the people. Never should that mean lowering of ideals, however, but rather lifting the people to higher planes.

When George Deforest Brush (1855) first began his art career he painted many pictures of the American Indian pictures that suggest curious tales without spoiling their artistic nature. Later he became more and more interested in home scenes and the people around him. Once he remarked to a friend: “I shall never be satisfied until I am admired by the people of Cherry Hill,” meaning his neigh bours. The quiet content of “Mrs. Brush Reading to her Children” (Fig. 67) is a never-to-be-forgotten picture. The peace of this home dwells in the mother-authority. She guides and regulates the household with the steady hand of one whose idea of love is Service service from both parents and children. The intensely human element in these mother-pictures is a quality belonging peculiarly to Mr. Brush. He has developed a mother-atmosphere entirely distinct from any external comeliness. His heart warmth overbalances mere beauty of person until, like Rembrandt’s “Old Woman Cutting Her Nails,” the drawing quality of his mothers is irresistible.

Mr. Gari Melchers (1860), born in Detroit, had his training in Paris, but, contrary to prophecies twenty years ago, he has developed an American spirit in his art that even the French influence of his early years could not obliterate. The “Portrait of Mrs. Melchers” is one of his most strikingly characteristic works. There is a certain dash in design and colour that marks the individuality of the artist. He knew his model and has dared to run the gamut in a dashing colour riot ; yet a certain restraint in both model and artists grips us.

“The Communion” (rig. 68), by Mr. Melchers, is a marvellous collection of portraits of the village people as well as a picture of rare excellence. Those earnest people fascinate us as people do who believe and live their belief. Each individual is a character study and collectively represents the character of the village. Drawn together around the communion table of Our Lord as a community centre they nevertheless represent varied, and probably con-tending, interests in their workaday life. Mr. Meichers holds firmly to life as it is among the fisher-folk and village centres. He never strays into sentimental babblings. The joys and sorrows portrayed in his pictures are the sentiments of a people who consider life worth the living.

“The Fencing Master” (Fig. 69), Museum of Art, Detroit, speaks for himself. Like Moroni’s “Tailor” in the National Gallery, London, he has dignified his work. No other recommendation is necessary but this man to convince one that fencing is the kind of exercise to produce men. If those of our American young men who slouch along the street, with head pushed forward and feet shuffling behind, could have the inspiration of this portrait, I am sure they would square their shoulders and walk like men of affairs and they soon would be. This fencing master never worked for men but with them.

Mr. Melchers’ pictures have a strength and virility all their own. The bride in “Marriage” (Fig-. 70), Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, is not one whit less womanly because she stands unflinchingly by the side of the man; the ceremony is to her a bond that holds for life; she sees far beyond the moment and feels that her own soul is responsible for the step she is taking. Not so the man. To him this is the supreme moment; he now possesses what he has sought, and cares very little for what the future has in store. Mr. Melchers is very de-pendent upon the individuality of his subjects, as are all true artists, and he never fails to make us feel that character is the basis of his portraits. One of his most remarkable portraits is that of Dr. William Rainey Harper, late President of the University of Chicago.

Mr. Melchers was accorded unusual honour at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915) in having a special gallery set apart exclusively for his work. Only a few other artists, leaders of various schools, had this same privilege given them. Mr. Melchers is the professor of art in the Academy of Weimar, Germany.

Carl Marr is one of our American artists who, unrecognised in his own country, went to Europe, and by genius and great perseverance has won a name for himself. His return to this country is looked upon as a national gain. Milwaukee, his native city, welcomes his home-coming with all the honour due him. She may well be proud of her famous son !

“Silent Devotion” (Fig. 71), Layton Art Gallery, Milwaukee, is one of Mr. Marr’s simpler canvases and possibly for that reason one of his most attractive ones. The young wife is the very essence of peaceful thinking untroubled by doubts. She has listened to the World and her mind has wandered on into realms of the unreal, yet with no searchings for the unanswerable problems. The play of light on that woman, unconscious of the world, is as beautiful as anything in modern art. The mobile pensive face, the shapely arms and hands, the expression of perfect ease in the supple body are all there, yet the illusive charm is the filmy palpitating atmosphere that envelopes the whole.

One of the first pictures Mr. Marr painted that was recognised with a medal by the art critics of Germany, was “Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew” (Fig. 72). For some years the picture found no purchaser, but it was finally bought and presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Mr. Marr has succeeded in giving just that sense of mystery to the desolate scene of rock, sand, water, and sky that intensifies the legendary story. What a world of despair that crouching figure of the old Jew represents! Since he refused rest to our Saviour when He was bearing His cross, he has wandered over the- earth, ever seeking death, but never finding it. And yet the woman, so beautiful and so perfect in her young maturity, has been found and snatched from life and all its promises. The old, old question of why

“Death aims with fouler spite At fairer marks”

was never more forcefully asked than in this painting.

Mr. Marr’s native city was very proud when the opportunity came to purchase his master-piece, “The Flagellants.” The painting is gigantic in size and shows the artist’s skill in filling a large canvas.

Henry O. Tanner is peculiarly interesting as an artist with negro blood in his veins. He was born in Pittsburgh and was trained both in this country and in Paris. He is a man of real talent in painting, and his exalted ideas have found expression in his many religious subjects. His painting of “The Two Disciples at the Tomb” (Fig. 73), The Art Institute, Chicago, is decidedly original. The disciples are undoubtedly Peter and John, who ran together to the tomb, and the moment when “that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre saw and believed.” John has the vision in his eyes and the calm assurance in his face that marked his career as the beloved disciple, the St. John of the Revelations and the Gospel. The artist has caught the spirit of one who “saw and believed.”