ALBRECHT DURER, though not the inventor of engraving, was the first artist in whose hands the etching needle became the medium of true artistic expression. From his time (1471-1528) on it has been used more or less by individual artists of all countries and now quite an unusual number of our modern American painters are adopting its use, some of whom, like Whistler and Joseph Pennell, have already acquired international fame. In fact, one of the characteristics of our artists is to become versed in the various modes of expression, ancient and modern, that belong to pictorial art. This spirit of investigation and enlarged field of action in a particular calling, and also in general, is a good outlook for broader ideas of citizenship.
“Know one thing well, then as much as possible of everything” is a good motto in the study of art if it is followed equally well in both propositions. It is always a joy to find an artist specialising without detriment to his art as a whole. It is fine to be a specialist but no one wants the other faculties atrophied while becoming efficient in a particular line. We feel the greatest pleasure in the work of John Sloan because he is a master in each branch he undertakes and still keeps himself close to the human side of life. Whether using the brush or the etching needle, he sees people ; he portrays them coming and going, bent on business and pleasure, with such accuracy that we recognise the impulse governing their actions. Individually and collectively Mr. Sloan presents life to us.
Look at the “Portrait Drawing of Paul de Kock” (Fig. 217), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Was ever the characteristic traits of a writer more keenly noted than in this chalk drawing? Strong, free and simple it reveals the heart of the man and the intense desire of the artist to speak the truth sincerely. Unlike Hogarth Mr. Sloan’s humour is always kindly, but then, bad as we are, the state of America to-day is not that of England in Hogarth’s time. One of Mr. Sloan’s specially telling etchings is “Fifth Avenue Critics,” belonging to his New York set of thirteen etchings, in which is represented a ba rouche with two grand dames and a liveried coachman meeting a pretty, meek little lady, with a fluffy dog, in a hired hansom. The look of disdain on the wrinkled faces of the critics is ludicrous in the extreme, especially as seen against the perked up ears of the horse of the hansom which is in line with their faces.
Mr. Sloan was born at Lockhaven, Penn’a, in 1871, and was trained in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He makes his home in New York City. Much of his time to-day is devoted to painting landscapes and New York street scenes.
Thomas R. Congdon is another American artist whose use of the etching needle is that of a master. It is only recently that we have him with us again, but his long stay in Paris is easily forgiven because of the fruitfulness of the sojourn and the honour bestowed on him while there. It is a delight, too, to look at dear, charming Paris through his American eyes – an artist does not lose his national traits when out of his own country – and feel the same thrill creep over us that we, as travellers, felt when standing by the Seine, or in front of Saint Etienne du Mont, or looking across the little pond to the Palais de Luxembourg. All these points of view so dear to us Mr. Congdon has made doubly dear with his etching needle.
Now let us go to dear, old London and lazily sail along the Thames. Mr. Congdon shows us the same old “Factories on the Thames” (Fig. 218), only he has helped us to see more of the beauty of the English atmosphere that clings to and embraces them. Did we ever see that enchanting light and shade? And yet it was there waiting for a master to catch it and hand it down to posterity to enjoy. How the black smoke blotches the dull sky or merrily sails away in thin streaks ; and how the old buildings snuggle against each other just as the anchor piles stand together for strength in the foreground. Who cares that the air is full of the smudge of soft coal? The hum of the machines sings of the poetry of labour. We are glad to welcome Mr. Congdon home again, for no doubt he will now help us to look at our own land with more seeing eyes.
It is very refreshing nowadays to find an up-to-date artist filled with the ideals of the past. “Something new” may be a good slogan to keep us from growing stale and shelf-worn, but we need to cling to the master ideals of the past – ideals that are founded on fundamentals as solid as the eternal hills. In the works of John Hemming Fry we see that he has communed with the Greeks. His communion has been that of a seeker after truth.
He is no imitator or copyist but one whose soul is filled with the beauty of the human form with the touch of divinity still clinging to it. The dear old stories that belong to the childhood of the world, that we all love, have taken on a deeper significance under his brush.
Was ever a “Dryad” (Fig. 219) more beautiful or more human than Mr. Fry’s interpretation of her? Exquisite in form and pure in motive she is an intimate part of her beloved trees; with them as part of their life she came into existence and when they die she will die too. Mr. Fry, however, has given to her an element that was unknown to the Greeks – the new birth that springs from defeats and thwarted ideals into a stronger womanhood. Over and over again he uses mythological themes, but shot through them all is this firmer realisation of ideals that is our heritage. See the glorious light flooding the background and gradually embracing the trees and flowers and dryad in its vivifying influence.
And again in “The Eternal Drift” (Fig. 220) the warm, luscious flesh and firm elastic bodies of the nymphs are reminiscent of far-off Greece, but with a fuller understanding of woman’s reclaiming power. Rarely did the Greek artists give greater satisfaction in physical perfection and charm of femininity than is in these two lovely beings. Mr. Fry’s inspiration is drawn from the fountain head, consequently his nude figures are as pure as the water springing from that source. Beautiful and chased yet mortal beings with possibilities of evil but with greater probabilities for good. It matters little to what age these lovely creatures of the eternal drift belong; they are always a definite part of the great problems of life and ever to be reckoned with. It is when an artist, whose heart is warm to-ward humanity, transmutes these frailties into a power for good that physical perfection in art reaches its goal. The Greeks ignored the evil in perfecting the body; Mr. Fry makes it beautiful in spite of its weaknesses. A certain wistfulness has crept into the faces of his modern nymphs and dryads and mythical maidens that makes us feel they are our sisters and we love them. Mr. Fry’s figures are such an intimate part of the scene that the bit of landscape, or shore inlet, or ocean expanse would be void without them. They are vital products of the trees and the foam and the tumbling waves. His colour scheme is low and rich yet his effects are full of vitality and strength.
When Elizabeth Eyre painted “The Upper Box” (Fig. 221) she gave a picture of the surfeited opera habitués that words fail to express.
Boredom to extinction is written large on every line of the young man leaning on his hand. And one can almost hear the war of words between the couple at the right; and the tolerant smile of the older man is that of one satiated yet hoping for new sensations. Miss Eyre has certainly used her eyes in studying the box frequenters of opera and theatre. And how unique is her arrangement and simple her de-sign. Surely our architects would do well to study this upper box as a model in simplicity. Possibly a little of the depressing influences of too frequent attendance at play houses might be alleviated if the rococo decorations were done away with. At least the artistic effect of beautiful gowns would be greatly enhanced in simpler surroundings and incidentally add pleasure to being the most elegantly attired lady in the house. Miss Eyre sets her palette in a rather low key which intensifies the silhouette of flesh tones. Her appreciation of moods as expressed in face and body is exceedingly keen and promises, in the coming years, that delineation of character will be a strong feature of her art. After all, it is the clear eye and steady brain of the artist who has given and is giving historical sketches of worth to the world.
Orlando Rouland is a member of the Allied Artists of America. This association broke away, a little rebelliously, from the parent stock, the Academy of Design, several years ago. The basic cause of the rupture was justifiable, for parents forget sometimes that their offspring can think. Fortunately the relation-ship between the two associations to-day is friendly and both hold their annual exhibitions in the Academy on 57th Street, New York City. Not all the work presented to the public by the young society is praiseworthy or even above mediocre, any more than that of the Academy, but the sifting process is more energetic when the sieve is in younger hands.
As we study “Guided by the Stars” (Pig. 222) we feel that the strength of young blood, steadied by responsibility, is before us. Mr. Rouland understands the power of silent contemplation. He is not afraid of making his people think. This young chief, for chief he certainly is in features and bearing, is using his mind as a perfectly balanced instrument under the control of the manipulator. There is no hesitancy or vacillation, for by no possible chance can he go astray with the eternal heavens as a map and the trained indicator as a guide. How well the self-contained, forceful traveller fits the solitude of that snowy height! One’s own convictions grow stronger under the influence of this solitary seeker after wisdom. Studying the heavens brought this people near the Great Spirit just as it compelled the psalmist of old to exclaim,
“The heavens declare the glory of God ; And the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night sheweth knowledge.”
Mr. Rouland’s message to the world is big and wholesome; it reaches deep into our heart of hearts because he touches the mainspring of life – the Eternal God – and we too exclaim with the shining host of twinkling stars,
“The hand that made us is Divine.”
It is interesting the many and varied ways of approach the artists are using to-day in presenting life to us. They are not painting a dead world but one palpitating with vitality. Still life is a paradox, for life is motion and not even material things are still. Then, too, still life subjects are vibrant with atmospheric quiverings.
And again our artists are becoming thinkers. Of course at first certain mannerisms of the teacher cling to them but these disappear as the individuality grows. I am not speaking of the would-be artists who are falling by the way – and some in this book may be among that number – but of those who have come to stay. A true artist is a thinker; he works out his own problems and when his solution is accepted by the thinking public, educated or uneducated, he has arrived.
Randall Davey is doing some of this thinking. His character sketches are like biographical notes in their portrayal of individual traits, yet they evince the intimate knowledge of racial peculiarities of one versed in the study of physiognomy. No one could mistake the “Old Sea Captain” (Fig. 223), in the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C. He and his fore-bears have for centuries fought the sea and with dogged determination have kept it at bay. Every inch of him is as solid as the hills and with a heart as warm and tender as a child’s. He no doubt was a special friend of Mr. Davey’s, yet he represents the whole race of Gloucester Sea Captains. There is a certain vigour of purpose in his makeup that speaks in no uncertain tone of the sturdy little town that has held its own against odds that would have conquered bigger places.
Mr. Davey is developing an individual art while using subjects that are common to a num ber of painters to-day. His two years’ sojourn in the Netherlands and later in Spain have not only opened his mind to perceive the underlying reasons of racial differences, but they started an individual growth in Mr. Davey of good judgment and clear thinking that is becoming more pronounced each season. Is anything of greater value than healthful growth in the development of a nation? And as nations are made up of individuals nothing can be more encouraging than to say to a fellow worker, ,,you have grown ! Mr. Davey is young in years and is full of the enthusiasm of youth. One feels the impetuous blood of an undaunted conqueror in his rich colour, his daring compositions, and his rather unusual technique. At times his conquering is a little ruthless, yet the spirit of honest courage and an undertone of good sense and sincerity generally prevails.
We are very proud of the large company of young American thinkers who are working out their own salvation in their art. The majority of them have scarcely reached two score years of life, yet they already stand for progress. While a list of names means little in general when it comprises men and women whom the public is watching expectantly, it holds big possibilities. To such a list belong Harry Townsend, Howard Giles, Leon Gaspard, Jules Turcas, B. Gutmann, Guy Wiggins, Arthur Crisp, Ossip L. Linde, Althea H. Platt, Clifford W. Ashley, A. Hanson, W. G. Beuley, George Elmer Brown, C. C. Campbell, A. Barone, and many others of equal merit.