American Painters – Wiles – Dearth – Turner – Henri – Walter – Seyffert – Norton

WHEN Irving R. Wiles painted the portrait of his father, “Lemuel Maynard Wiles” (Fig. 203), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he proved to the lovers of modern art that broad, swift strokes are as forceful in his hands as is the de-tailed work of the more finished portrait. No one could mistake the mental calibre of the elder painter – his father was an artist–after seeing that splendid head. The rugged handling emphasises the framework of the head without in the least detracting from the mark of intelligence that stamps every feature. One is conscious that the skull is typical of intellectuality in the white race, but with no loss of individual personality. Such a man could not be represented by the flash of his eye, for the whole contour of his head bears the impress of the mind within. The son’s revelation of his father is the kind that comes from a living contact. Such a portrait lives.

Mr. Wiles was born in Utica, New York, in 1861, and, in training for his profession, studied under William M. Chase and then spent some time in Paris. We are indebted to Mr. Wiles for portraits of a number of our artists. His group of “Charles Bittinger and Daughter Isabel” is exceedingly characteristic. As we look at the portrait of Mr. Bittinger and then turn to the exquisite “Madame du Barry” (see Fig. 213), which he painted from a bit of decoration in the old palace of Versailles, we understand better the comprehensive character of Mr. Wiles’ portraiture.

No two pictures could be more dissimilar in treatment than these two. Look again at the artist’s father. The lines carved on the head are of constructive work and need no explanation. He simply marks the elemental forces of passing years with a few brush strokes, realising that strong, simple lines are a force in them-selves. In the other portrait of Mr. Bittinger he has a far more varied problem. The vision of life is the present and future. The realisation is only beginning, and Mr. Wiles, with a prophet’s insight, gives us a glimpse of the possible visions stirring in Mr. Bittinger’s brain. The group is well composed and its pictorial quality is attractive.

When Henry Golden Dearth (1864) paints decorative pictures the adjective stands for more than a mere fetish, used as it often is to-day to cover up a multitude of sins in art. And again his deliberate return to past ages for tapestry effect has no hint of affectation or at least not of an eccentric desire to produce something unusual.

“Cordelia” (Fig. 204), Metropolitan Museum of Art, compels attention. She is most picturesque in her red jacket and white shirt-front. It is a little daring for a young woman with pale blue eyes to wear a red jacket – well, we like her staying qualities against the flat wall and leather-bound books. The picture is a bit of decoration that holds its own even in a museum – but then there is no screaming at each other among the pictures now, for the hanging committees are artists, and true artists make all things harmonious. Somehow this picture of Cordelia calls to mind the cells at San Marco, Florence – each with its single Fra Angelico. Cordelia would fill a room.

Helen M. Turner is unique; she was so even in her early training in art. She says, “Unlike so many beginners I had no desire to study in Europe, feeling on the contrary that it would be something like being plunged into a swiftly running current before one learns to swim.”

Miss Turner is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, but her childhood was lived in Louisiana during the awful readjustment in the South. Those troublous times doubtless helped develop that stability of purpose in the child which is working out in the artist’s splendid products today.

When Miss Turner states, “I paint almost entirely in oil,” we feel like substituting the word “model” for “paint” as she works her pigments into those strong, vibrating human beings. She manipulates her paints with the caressing touch of one who feels in sympathy with her medium. The inanimate paint is her friend and responds to her slightest wish. This seems to be one of the secrets of Miss Turner’s power as an artist – this intimate understanding of the friendliness of inanimate things or, contrariwise, the cussedness of the same.

When “A Lady with a Parasol” (Fig. 205) called to see Miss Turner, we are sure the caller’s face and form made a picture in the artist’s mind. The dull blue coat, offset by the flower-trimmed hat, pink parasol, and bright beads, formed a beautiful pattern for a picture Miss Turner says, “I am principally concerned with the pattern, the great design, the swing of line, and the harmony of masses.” And yet her pictures are more than all these, for in them is expressed the great human side of life.

So warm and close is the understanding between the painter and her subjects that the picture is a living personality.

One of Miss Turner’s most charming groups is “A Mother and Child,” in which she ex-presses the very essence of the joy of mother-hood. Into the face of the mother as she nurses her little one has crept an ineffable pride of ownership; a sense of the complete knowledge of parentage that is hers alone, with a tenderness and apprehension that belong to the true mother. And the baby is a darling. See him tug away at his dinner, one eye buried in the soft, warm pillow and the other sending a roguish little side glance up to his mother. We can hear the mother saying tenderly, “Now take your dinner, you little rogue, and stop your play.” And then she hugs him close in a warm embrace.

“Pauline,” privately owned in Philadelphia, represents a fine, half-grown girl. Fearless and unafraid she looks out on the world. The stirrings of womanhood are unheeded, though faint warnings of a new birth lurk behind the wide open eyes. “Pauline” is a picture every growing girl should know and love. Simple and straightforward in line and harmony of colour the picture stands for perfect development with every function working according to natural laws. Miss Turner is revealing forces that stand for true art, whether in life or painting. Strong, honest, true to herself, she is lifting us to her high ideal of progress.

One of the very interesting loans in the Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, is the picture of a “Spanish Gipsy Girl” (Fig. 206), by Robert Henri. Mr. Henri stands for modernity in the art world to-day. His aim is to gather up the essential elements as they impress him, and in broad swift strokes pre-sent the picture to us; sometimes, we must admit, he is so disdainful of details that we fail to catch the impression – due perhaps to our stupidity. It is not so in the gipsy girl. No one could possibly mistake this child of sunny Spain. Again Murillo’s “Beggar Boys” are before us, but with an added element drawn from the new world. Mr. Henri’s broad synthesis of Spanish characteristics in the happy-go-lucky children of the vagabond race – who originally may have come from Egypt – is that of one who sees racial traits as well as those of environment. The picturesque quality in this free child of nature is perfectly bewitching. The wide-set eyes that twinkle with fun index her innate sense of the artistic – not that she knows anything about being artistic. How the dusky hair, drawn back from her low broad forehead tones with her brilliant shawl and brown skin, and how the light loose frock intensifies the smiling face ! The whole picture centres in that face, for in it the artist has typified not only the Spanish gipsy girl, but a particular gipsy girl.

And again did ever a child look at you with more compelling eyes than “Catherine” (Fig. 207) ? If you gain the confidence of that child you must be true to your best self. In Mr. Henri is the acme of modernity. He ignores detail to the extreme limit, yet he seldom fails to give a portrait that reveals the very soul of his subject. There are times, however, when his spirit of daring savours of bravado – more’s the pity – and the brilliancy that was our admiration becomes like Apples of Sodom.

Robert Henri was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865, and is one of the leading teachers of art in America. His several years of independent study in Italy, Spain and France broadened his understanding of the fundamentals as demonstrated by the masters of the past, without in the least undermining the true American spirit of his art.

It was said of Ghirlandajo’s quick perception of individualities that from his studio window he would make speaking likenesses of the passing crowd. Miss Martha Walter seems to have inherited the old Italian artist’s adeptness. Her people, mostly women and children, are in the street cars, lolling on park benches or lying in the sun. Taking them unawares, she records bits of humour and pathos playing upon their faces like sunshine and shadow from the passing clouds. Miss Walter paints her people in the direct light but without the dazzle of light. Her colour is warm and steady and the feeling of form is strong and substantial.

That Miss Walter’s picture of the “English Nurse” (Fig. 208) makes us wish that she had recorded more about the woman and her charge gives the keynote of the artist’s art. She certainly has the power of selecting pictorial moments in the acts of the people around her – in fact any moment is a picture when she touches it. Is it not true though that in some of her pictures a little more attention to de-tails (a tabooed word in modern art) would give greater pleasure to those who love the people she paints? After all is said, pictures are for the people.

It matters little whether Leopold Seyffert is painting a portrait of a social leader or making a picture of a “Dutch Woman” (Fig. 209). In each individual he gives the keynote of the person’s existence. The spark that individualises humanity in his eyes lies deeper than the flesh covered with the conventional clothes of a country. His Dutch woman, I grant you, has the Netherlands stamped all over her, yet she stands for herself alone. Put her into American clothes and she is still the woman who mothers the neighbourhood. Keen, kind and courageous she has made her way in life in spite of hardships and has lived her own life in her own way.

Mr. Seyffert though still very young has a keen sense for the human element in the world. He has gone to the market place and among the peasants in Spain, and has given us many pictures representing types of the country, al-ways catching some vital point that makes each model a special human being. This gift of in-sight that has enabled Mr. Seyffert to catch the vital spark which distinguishes individuals has drawn to his studio numbers of well known society people. If only the young artist will hold himself steadily to quality in his work and not be obsessed with the poster-art tendency that marks some of his work, his future holds great possibilities.

Mr. Seyffert, a native of West Philadelphia, had his early training in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His travels in Europe broadened his perceptive powers and gave him a fine grasp of fundamentals. We shall watch his development with great interest and prophesy that coming years will bring from his brush works belonging to the ages.

To acquire a distinctive individual quality in work without falling into mannerisms is the mark of an artist with real artistic instincts. This is the quality Clara Mamre Norton has attained in her art. In her portraits we feel her warm intimate understanding of personal traits. She not only puts her sitters at ease, but they unconsciously assume a pose – no, a natural posture – that reveals their inner selves. These character glimpses of people are exceedingly interesting in studying Miss Norton’s individual methods in her painting.

In her “Study in Black and Gold” (Fig. 210) Miss Norton’s colour note is full of vitality. The delicate flesh glows with the warmth of pulsing blood and the light caught in the sunny hair sheds a radiance over the whole picture. Miss Norton was born in New England and trained in Boston under Mr. Edmund C. Tar bell. She was awarded the travelling scholar-ship from the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts which gave her two years of intimate study of the old masters in Europe. She now has her studio in New York City.