THE spiritual vision of the late John H. Twachtman gave him an understanding of nature’s secrets that few artists have ever attained. He seemed to divine the underlying principles governing the elements. Unreal and unsubstantial were many of Mr. Twachtman’s visions, when his grasp fell just short of his reach, yet they never lost the impelling force of his artistic instincts.
Naturally it is given to few to understand his fleeting dreams and wandering sprites that mark a spring morning or a gathering mist, but none of us can mistake the tremendous forces of “Niagara in Winter” (Fig. 135). The magnificent strength in the drop of that water, made manifest in the foaming, seething mass leaping up to the very source of its latent energy, is superbly matched in the cold, stern force that grips the laughing, glittering tor-rent and piles it high, as in mockery, at the very feet of the boasting opponent. Twachtman has here grasped the elemental in nature and with a swift, sure brush has laid bare her fundamental forces.
We have often stood beside cascades like this very “Waterfall” (Fig. 136), Metropolitan Museum of Art, and watched the dancing stream slip over and around the obstructing ledges of rock on its way to the pool below, but not until Mr. Twachtman touched it with his vitalising, cool, grey-blue hue did we feel, with Goethe, that,
“Water its living strength first shows, When obstacles its course oppose.”
Mr. Twachtman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1853, and died at his home in Gloucester, Mass., in 1902. He first studied with Frank Duveneck in his native city, and was associated with him again in Venice. He spent two years in Munich, and later in Paris came under the influence of the French tonalists and impressionists.
Although Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell and Robert Reid studied together in Paris at the Julian Academy and also under Dannat, they are entirely dissimilar in their manner of work. Each man accepted the teachings of the French masters in his own way, transmuting the methods into distinctive traits that characterise the works of each. In fact, individuality is the dominant note in their paintings. Mr. Benson’s brush has caught a certain brightness of colour and light that speaks a language of its own. No one could mistake his manner of entangling the sunlight in the hair and garments of his open air figures. He plays them in the early morning light, and as the evening shadows fall he follows them in the open field and on the hilltop, under sun-shades and in open verandas, ever catching the varying quality of sunlight with unerring artistic instinct.
In “Sunshine and Shadow” (Fig. 137) Mr. Benson has done more than make a picture with exquisite decorative qualities; he has added a personal note that goes deeper than the mere effect of sunlight, as the title implies. These people interest us. The feeling of good fellowship existing between them – this mother and daughter – echoes in our hearts. Such a picture is warm with the comradery of the true home.
In no portrait has Mr. Benson caught the vital spark more truly than in his “Portrait of a Boy” (Fig. 138), Carnegie Institute, Pitts-burgh. Curious and a little doubtful is he, with a hint of rebellion at being disturbed. These are the dominating traits that mark this boy, and in those traits this is a universal boy. A boy is self-centred, wanting to be let alone; a girl is self-centred, expecting notice. It is not always that Mr. Benson’s portraits have the charm and personality of this boy; at times he seems so obsessed with the artistic quality of his work – making a picture pure and simple – that the element of likeness is all but eliminated from the portrait.
Mr. Benson was born in Salem, Mass., 1862, and on his return from Europe settled in Boston.
Impressionism in Edmund C. Tarbell’s paintings is a sane and harmonious use of col-our, united with sufficient amount of form and detail. When we remember how, in the move-ment a quarter of a century ago, the pendulum swung, as usual, to the extreme in the lack of all form and detail and in the riotous use of violent colour, we are specially gratified with the sanity of the men who have come to stay. If “colour impression” is the essential element of impressionists, then Mr. Tarbell has relegated that element to its proper place. As we look at the “Woman in Pink and Green” (Fig. 139), Cincinnati Museum, our sensation is that produced by harmony. The perfectly balanced cool and warm tones of the young woman’s costume are a vital part of the soft rich light that caresses the whole. Then, too, the composition is exceedingly attractive artistically. It might be a quiet corner in some summer hotel ; the young woman, sufficient unto herself, is in no hurry; the women at their embroidery are self-centred – just a bit of conventional life of singular charm under the refining influence of Mr. Tarbell’s brush. If only his people had a little more of the active alert element, so characteristic of our time, possibly their refinement and sincerity would strike a deeper chord in the heart of picture lovers. As it is, we love them and go away feeling that it was good for to have seen them.
Mr. Tarbell was born in Boston in 1862 and on his return from Europe took up his residence in his native city. He has been a teacher in the Museum of Fine Arts school for many years. That the Boston artists, Mr. Benson and Mr. Tarbell and others, have a characteristic undertone of their own is unquestioned, and that their exclusiveness, if we may so name it, stands for strength and simplicity is equally true.
“The Miniature” (Fig. 140) Museum of Art, Detroit, Mich., is one of Robert Reid’s brilliant, decorative pictures, in which he has combined everything that contributes to forming the true portrait of a woman. There is the artist’s usual skill in short broken pastel strokes, in a woven network of strong colours, leaving the canvas partly covered to enhance the vitality of the whole. But aside from all this, there is the woman, individual in every line from the pose of her head to the flirt of her gown around the table leg. Decorative? yes, but it is especially so because Mr. Reid knew how to catch the woman at the right moment. No man, not even an artist, could have told this woman how to take that particular position. The tender modelling of the head, with its glorious hair, is a perfect delight.
Mr. Reid was born in Stockbridge, Mass., 1862, and on coming home from abroad made his home in New York City.
When Willard L. Metcalf (1858) painted “Midsummer” (Fig. 141) he gave more than the impression of a country road in summer; he gave the road itself. How often have we jogged along that dirt road, feeling the comfort of the cool shade – if there was any coolness that still summer’s day with the sun pouring its heat over everything – and urging the horse along the open places to the next shaded stretch beyond. Mr. Metcalf thoroughly understands the impressionist’s methods of high-pitched pictures where the feeling of the open air is gained by contrasts of pure colour used in broken patches, to give vibration and brilliancy. But he usually stops just short of the vibration line and lays his paint on thinly and smoothly. This gives the quiet power to his pictures that makes them so loved by the general public. Not only are his pictures admired by the Philistine but, if a dozen and more prizes and honourable mentions in this country and abroad count for anything, they are admired and thought worthy by artists and art lovers. A dozen or more galleries, too, have specimens of his works.
Mr. Metcalf was born in Lowell, Mass., 1858, and now lives in New York City.
Edward E. Simmons (1852) is widely known by his mural painting. He was one of the artists chosen for decorating the buildings of the Columbian Exposition in 1893, and since then his work has been placed in many public buildings of our cities and states; he was also one of the decorators of the Library of Congress at Washington. The study of American Mural Painting is a subject by itself, of the greatest importance in the development of American painting.