GARDNER SYMONS (1863), like some of the later men, seems so largely dependent on the Frost King for his inspiration that he naturally slips into the winter group. It is our province, as the lay public, to try to understand the works of artists who are sincerely and sanely picturing for us the world we live in. We may not personally enjoy some particular picture, but we can be sensitive to whether it rings true or not. To those of us who are familiar with country scenes all the year round the paintings of our landscapists will form quite a complete monthly calendar.
We are becoming very well acquainted with the winter king; we come upon him so often in the various galleries, and are conscious that his stern, uncompromising reign is a favourite theme of the year’s seasons. It is exceedingly interesting to follow the artists’ treatment of winter – as various as the artists are different one from another.
These artists are dealing with light, and never is light so fickle as when it plays about the snowdrifts and through the stripped trees. The “Sunlight in the Woods” (Fig. 142), Carnegie Public Library, Fort Worth, Texas, as Mr. Symons shows it to us, is frankly coquettish slipping in and out, catching this bare trunk and that snow bank, this dark evergreen and that bubbling water tumbling over the rough stones. The wood and stream are full of the glee of laughing children playing hide-and-seek in the soft clean snow and hiding be-hind boulder and tree trunk. In imagination you can see the children;. and do you not feel the gladness and sparkle that the winter sun has brought to the wood and stream and barren trees, standing knee-deep in the snow-drifts? Mr. Symons has a certain American independence that is ‘delightful. He is bound by no rule that does not harmonise with his own originality. His independence is con-trolled by clear-sighted good sense.
The “River in Winter” (Fig. 143), Institute of Art, Minneapolis, by Mr. Symons, is flowing steadily through the valley, where for ages it has been eating out the crumbling banks, making a lake of itself, then drawing in its forces because the rocks and trees compel it, only again, however, to tear out new material with its collected force. Mr. Symons has vividly portrayed the history of that sullen water in its devastating moods. The heavy cold of the dark ice-laden river penetrates to the very marrow – the air is cold ; the snow is cold; the water is cold; not even the sun cares to linger, for the winter king is. in no mood to give out joy, though he makes us wish for the open fire in the home near the river.
These two scenes show how sympathetically he approaches his subjects and how susceptible he is to the ever-changing aspect of nature. We might name our landscapists “Interpreters of Nature,” for such is the burden of their theme, only unfortunately not always are their renderings understood by us, the public. When not comprehended, both they and their pictures fall by the way.
Of the American landscapists now nearing the half-century mark probably Mr. Redfield is the most widely known, though as one critic says : “He was no precocious prodigy, and it is doubtful if any one realised . . . that he was destined to become one of the foremost painters of America, whose work would receive gen eral and substantial recognition before he had turned forty.” He was the first American landscapist from whom the French Government bought a picture to hang in the Luxem bourg Gallery, Paris.
It would be impossible for Mr. Redfield to paint a hopeless winter, yet he never fails to make us feel the true spirit of the frost king. There is no sentimental masking of the desolation that follows in the wake of snow and ice. At one time we feel the light fluffy snow that, is soft and warm, like a wool comforter; then again the heavy wet snow that weighs down, like a cheap cotton comforter, with no semblance of warmth and comfort in it. He often changes his point of view in dealing with the cranky, uncertain king of winter, but he does it to help us to a better appreciation of the whimsical vagaries of a monarch subject to powers beyond him. A certain desolateness hangs over the bare hillside and heavy flowing river in “The Crest” (Fig. 144), John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, but the tiny settlement snuggled against the rough sidling road and the glistening snow caught in the hollows suggest that hope still lingers. His keen appreciation of the latent power buried under the snow and ice and hidden in the gaunt leaf-less trees infuses a sense of life. The barrenness of the aspect gives no hint of a dead world – nature is simply accumulating forces as she sleeps.
When Mr. Redfield chooses winter as his theme in the “Laurel Brook” (Fig. 145), and pictures it in such frank, simple language, we love him. The optimistic spirit of that scene would dissipate the worst case of the blues. The brook pays no heed to old winter except to laugh as it works its way in and out over the obstructions thrown in its way. The laurel shakes her dark shiny leaves and laughs as the white burden slips to the ground. Even the stark trees are snug with their feet buried in the soft snow. The short strokes, used with the restraint of one who is not carried away by a fad, have given just the right amount of aliveness to that dark, merry brook.
Possibly because December was Mr. Redfield’s birth month he was given a deeper knowledge of the old winter king. Certain it is he never fails to give the thrills that the biting air brings, whether it is to shiver as the dampness clutches us or to laugh as we glide over the soft snow.
It is cold along the “Delaware River” (Fig. 146) when the snow is caught in patches and skims of ice hold the water here and there, so no wonder the picture makes the flesh pimple a little. Only the other day I saw a number of paintings of winter scenes – one was Mr. Redfield’s – and then realised as never before that it is Mr. Redfield’s sympathetic touch that warms our hearts. He is picturing something dear to him, and the personal note in his simple lines appeals to us at once. Nothing extravagant, nothing overdrawn, just candid truth, is the element that made the artificial winter scenes slip in the background. The “Delaware River” was one of the paintings purchased for the Corcoran collection from the First Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings in 1907, held in the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Possibly we never saw “Sycamore Hill” (Fig. 147), Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, until Mr. Redfield showed it to us
“we’re made so that we love First when we see them painted, things we have passed Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see,”
but when an artist whose heart is alive to God’s universe fixes on canvas a bit of nature with the breath of heaven in it, we love it. Mr. Redfield is widening out ideas of winter and helping us to feel the pent-up joy of the close-locked earth.
Edward W. Redfield, born in Bridgeport, Delaware in 1868, is decidedly individual, yet his individuality is not of the eccentric kind. He works almost exclusively out of doors, and very rapidly, so that many canvases are the result of a season’s work. To have one of his winter scenes on the wall of a living-room brings joy the season through. In winter the home is the cosier because of the presence of his literal portrayal of winter, and in summer there comes from it a breath of crisp cold air deliciously refreshing. Many of his paintings are scenes from near his home in the Delaware Valley country, but their import cannot be con-fined to any special section; wherever is found snow and ice there is the essence of his art.
“December” (rig. 148), Carnegie Public Library, Fort Worth, Texas, is certainly a raw bleak month in this section, wherever it is, and the scene itself is not one to hold us, but Mr. Ochtman commands us to halt. Now we begin to realise that here is beauty of the most en-chanting kind. See how well balanced it is. Our eyes follow along the narrow pass between the low sloping hills and the broken line of trees, conscious that the sunbeam struggling to break through the clouds is calling us. We see its light reflected in the pool in the fore-ground and follow it on and on, realising that we are under a spell. After all, is the scene bleak and drear? Is it not rather one of hope?
These men have opened vistas in the realm of light of which we never before were conscious. We may not always agree with their methods, possibly because of ignorance, but they have set us to thinking. The lovely soft radiance that envelopes this winter scene speaks to our souls; we are learning to love winter scenes when the brush of a genius shows them to us.
Leonard Ochtman, born in Zonnemaire, Holland, in 1854, came to America when twelve years old and settled in Albany. He worked in a wood-engraver’s office in that city but, except for that training, he is self-taught in’ the art of painting. He lives at Cot, Conn.
W. Elmer Schofield (1867), a native of Philadelphia, was first trained in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and then studied in Paris. He is now living in his native city. One would scarcely think of using scenes from a snow-covered field, a river of broken ice, or shadeless trees scattered over undulating ground ornamented with snow-patches for decorative patterns, yet Mr. Schofield does. His pictures are like so many patterns for tapestry work and as varied as those taken from the kaleidoscope.
When he painted “A January Day” (Fig. 149), Cincinnati Museum, he attained just that quality of atmospheric illusiveness that leads us through this open wood into the fields and then beyond into the unknown. We care not for the hard broken patches of snow nor for the bare places where brush-heaps and stones are gathered, as we follow his lead. The spirit of winter is in this open wood. The dancing light and shade, the blue cloud-flecked sky, the tall grey trees, and the shorter glossy green ones, the whistling wind creaking the bare branches and soughing in the evergreens – Mr. Schofield has made us conscious of it all. And colour ! what is the colour of nature in winter but the haunting sense of something gone or something that is coming again? Even the glow of the setting sun in the west is but for a moment. The real radiance is the under-tone coming from within the bare trees and brown earth. Every true painter of winter makes us feel the hidden power temporarily held in leash.
The “Old Mills on the Somme” (Fig. 150), by Mr. Schofield, is a quiet scene, yet we feel that the whirr of the stones and the hum of the belts fill the air with the music of industry. The open door and the snug well-kept air of the buildings indicate the thrift of labour. The ancient buildings beside the picturesque, ragged old stream, peer anxiously into the deeper pool and smile as they see their own faces. The snow clinging to the stones and water-grass seems to catch up the smile and give it back to us. The shimmer of green and purple-brown that lurks in the shadows and around the bare trees has the tantalising quality of the opal and defies too close scrutiny of its exact tint.
“Woodstock Meadows in Winter” (Fig. 151), Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, by Birge Harrison, is a very personal scene. Let us stand in the loft window of the barn and allow our eye to follow the course of the little stream. Yes, it is the same brook we paddled through barefooted only a few summers ago. See, the murky sky smiles at times. The water sparkles and glistens as each tiny drop acts like a self-appointed mirror. We are seeing a beauty in this leaden day and this cold running water that we would scarcely have taken time to see had not the artist shown it to us. Mr. Harrison says : “I believe it is one of the artist’s chief functions to watch for the rare moods when nature wafts aside the veil of the commonplace and shows us her inner soul in some bewildering vision of poetic beauty.”
Mr. Harrison is a native of Philadelphia (1854) and was first trained in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then studied at École des Beaux Arts, Paris. As early as 1882 the French government bought one of his paintings. He is also well known as a critic and writer on art.
The painting about which a wholesome sentiment clings is “Frozen River” (Fig. 152), by Charles Rosen (1878), Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans. The museum has two pay-days each week and the first picture purchased from the admission fees (25 cents each) was “Frozen River.” How quickly our interest is enlisted and how grateful we are for the wise selection !
Mr. Rosen, a native of Pennsylvania and a pupil of Mr. William M. Chase, is young in years, but already he has had many marks of honour and respect in prizes and club member-ships. His works speak for him in no uncertain language. The scene of the “Frozen River” is of no special significance, but the intense cold of a winter morning brooding over it is that of any river when the mercury drops be-low zero. How plainly we understand the treachery of the undercurrent that comes to the open under the tree and bushes! We feel that unsuspected airholes lurk under the white surface. What a splendid example of contending forces are the tumbled and contorted rapids, caught at last by the stronger force! Who could look at this strong, vigorous painting of winter’s tightest mood without a feeling of weakness to battle with it? The cold lowering sky hovers over the colder white ex panse, and even the dark green-blue water is struggling against the power that threatens it. Mr. Rosen has caught the spirit of winter and has made us feel its power.
But in “The Brook in Autumn” (Fig. 153) Mr. Rosen is equally forceful in foreshadowing the coming winter. The tang in the air and the glint in the water warn us that the sun is losing his power.
Another artist – one of our younger men (1875) – is portraying winter in a peculiarly sympathetic mood. Over and over again Mr. John F. Carlson takes us to the woods to show us how the snow lodges on the trees, always on the north side, and how the hollows are filled to overflowing and how the sun is seeking out every snow patch as a fit place for his dance. Not long since it was my joy to see a dozen or more of these woodland scenes at the Macbeth Gallery, New York City. I felt the years slip away and again I was exploring every nook and corner of the old woods at the home farm. Again Father was saying : “In a moment daughter, we will reach the open space.” And sure enough there was the bright spot. The big tree trunks stood apart, as it were, that we might catch the glory of the full sunshine. And the “Woodland Brook” (Fig. 154) ! Who has ever made a truer picture of the dark, rest-less water insisting on its right of way regard-less of snow and cold? Although Mr. Carl-son is a native of Kalmar Lan, Sweden, he is a true American in his woodland scenes.
Chauncey F. Ryder is also an artist who finds poetry in stripped trees and bare hillsides ; in sullen waters and wind swept fields. His sympathetic appreciation of nature has revealed to him many of her secrets and made him peculiarly sensitive to her moods. When he interprets for us “Pack Monadnock” (Fig. 155) in its undress and bare grey head, we at once feel the tang of the New England winter in the air. It is scarcely necessary to explain that Monadnock is an isolated mountain in southwestern New Hampshire, for Mr. Ryder has so specialised the individual character of the piled up mass that he has revealed it to us. The snug homes, each with its element of aloofness, have an air of exclusiveness that speaks volumes about restricted property. “We,” they seem to say, “are a privileged class; this lone peak is ours; intruders are warned to keep off.”
Fortunately for us the artist thought differently and has invited us to enjoy a rare treat. And what a wonderful glimpse we have of the hoary monster ! The scattered homes, centres of human interest, are an added charm to the scene. The tall, gaunt trees in the foreground acting as sentinels are a setting for the picture that enhances the beauty of the whole. They give a sense of stability to the level space that offsets the almost stern aspect of the bald mountain beyond. And how lovingly the distant trees and low shrubs snuggle close to the ascending sides as they climb toward the summit.
Mr. Ryder has a most convincing way with trees. He not only makes us feel their power as community centres, but at times, as in his painting “The Makers of Magic,” privately owned, we are conscious of the haunts of dry-ads and fauns. Here are tall, straight, baretrunked trees gathered in a close group with their tops joined and the sun sifting through – each tree the home of a nymph and the open space a sunlit ball room inviting them to the dance. The spirit of the past is awakened by the magic makers until in every tree trunk lurks a fawn, a dryad or a nymph. Wait a moment and we will see them come flocking out and again the woods will ring with song and laugh-ter. We would live in a prosaic world were it not that we are all makers of magic. We are all building our own castles in Spain and peopling them with creatures of our own brain. Let us see to it that we keep our imagination, for then we will keep our youth. Much of our real joy is in the things of our own creation and most of those things are mere phantoms of the mind. But when an artist in pictures or words makes permanent these imaginings he touches our hearts and we are pleased.
Mr. Ryder was born in Danbury, Conn., in 1868. He studied in the Chicago Art Institute and then went to Paris. While in Paris, in 1907, he had the honour of being Awarded Honourable Mention from the French Salon.