Art of the Vienna Galleries – The French And Spanish Paintings

THE French school in its development from Gothic art to the latest Impressionistic vagaries may not be studied in the Imperial Museum. Only a meagre number of paintings, indicating a few of the periods through which French art has passed, are found in the FIFTH CABINET. These are, however, generally interesting.

Two portraits of, ” Charles IX of France” are by François Clouet, called Jehannet, one of the earliest of French easel painters. No. 571 is a bust portrait of the King at the age of eleven years; No. 572 (Plate VIII) presents him in life-size at the age of twenty. These portraits excel in lightness of tduch, learned precision of line, and con-tempt for unnecessary detail.

Three interesting little portraits (Nos. 572, a. b. c.), long lost in store-rooms, have lately been placed in this Cabinet. One of these bears the date 1535. They belong to an unknown group of French-German portrait painters of Clouet’s time. A great many of these small heads are found in various museums, and form material for interesting study by future critics. The names of Amberger, of Corneille de Lyon, and others are now promiscuously attached to these well-painted little panels.

The 17th century, so important in France be-cause it gave birth to real landscape art in Claude Lorrain, is only represented here by the men who bore the Italian collar. Full of this trans-Alpine schooling was Laurent de la Hire, of whom we have a conventional ” Ascension of Mary ” (No. 574). The classicism of Nicolas Poussin, founded on the Italian Cinquecento, is seen in ” The Destruction of Jerusalem” (No. 583). This is also evident in the two landscapes (Nos. 585 and 586), by his brother-in-law and pupil, Gaspard Dughet, called Gaspard Poussin. Another pupil of Nicolas was Jacques Stella, whose ” Judgment of Solomon ” (No. 582) must not be passed by. Valentin de Boulogne modelled himself entirely on Caravaggio, although his ” Moses giving the Law ” (No. 589) displays individual strength. Of the same school was Pierre Mignard, appropriately called le Romain, whose ” St. Anthony ” (No. 584) has more of the Italian manner.

Of the Elder Charles le Brun, ,the founder of the French Academie des Beaux Arts, we find here an “Ascension of Mary ” (No. 591), that is reminiscent of Annibale Carracci; while the battle scenes of Jacques Courtois, called Bourguignon, find their prototype in the works of Salvator Rosa.

A small landscape (No. 592), by jean François Millet, called Francisque, is quite modern and most interesting. It does not bear any resemblance to the studio work of the Poussins where he received his training, although its artistic qualities cannot compare with the work of his namesake of a century and a half later.

The portrait painter of the end of the 17th century, Hyacinthe Rigaud, and his later confrère Joseph S. Duplessis, are worthily shown by portraits that made them popular in their day. The portrait of the composer von Glück (No. 588), by Duplessis, lacks, however, any personal character, although characterisation is hard striven for by pose and gesture. Indeed, the hand floating over the keyboard, and the uplifted eyes, are a species of affectation that does not enhance the charm of the picture.

An interesting little panel is by Antoine Watteau, a ” Guitar-player ” (No. 577) ; such a figure as this most charming of painters loved to draw with his caressing touch. Watteau’s art was the breath of French life of the 18th century — an era of fantastic romance, full of frivolous and trivial graces, peopled by the children of elegant amusement and vivacious desires. The reaction from the grand and pompous style of the time of Louis XIV had liberated art and made it free, gay and joyous. Pomposity was done away with, and, after the huge wigs and voluminous draperies of Rigaud, came the powder and satin coats of Nattier and Torque, and Watteau with his stage of gallantry and masquerade.

One whose delicacy of touch was formed in that French period of elegance was Jean Etienne Liotard, whose best-known work is the pastel Chocolate Girl, of Dresden. As characteristic a figure, painted on porcelain, is found here in an ” Old Woman ” (No. 590), who has fallen asleep while reading her Bible. Three marines by Adrien Manglard, and a view of Rome by his pupil Claude Vernet conclude our survey of the French paintings.

In the next, the SIXTH CABINET, are the Spanish paintings.

With a shorter period of art expression — only covering the 17th century — we find more individual characteristics in the works of the Spanish ‘school than in the majority of the French painters.

In the first painter whose work is shown here, Alonzo Coello, we do not yet discover any measure of nationalist expression. This pupil of the Dutch Antonis Mor who taught Coello during his temporary residence in Spain — painted entirely in the style of his master, as is plainly seen in the ” Portrait of a Lady ” (No. 597), in a red dress. Also his ” Portrait of Queen Anne of Spain ” (No. 602), and one of a boy with a falcon (No. 608), presumably the Archduke Wenzel, a son of Emperor Maximilian II, favour the Dutch method. The same may be said of the four portraits of royalty (Nos. 598-601), by Coello’s pupil, Juan de la Cruz.

Still another Spaniard this time with Italian training, for he was an imitator of the Bassani was Pedro Orrente. His ” John the Baptist” (No. 610) is the best of his three works displayed here. The wilderness or rather the lonely place, which is the meaning of the original Greek word is shown here as a beautiful landscape where we see the Baptist, still a young man, kneeling forward to drink from a spring in the rocks. The lamb at his feet is a fine piece of painting. ” Jacob’s Dream” (No. 604) and ” Christ Healing the Sick ” (No. 623) are reminiscent of his Italian tutelage.

The Museum authorities, who displayed some decision of critical judgment in assigning Ribera to the Italian school, left the question unsettled in regard to El Greco, of whom we saw an ” Adoration of the Kings” among the Italian paintings in Cabinet II. Another of his works is found here among the Spaniards, a “Portrait of a Man” (No. 596), which is an independent canvas of excellent execution.

El Greco, Greek by birth, Italian by training, and Spanish by adoption, is least mannered in his portraits. That curious, pulled-out quality of arms and heads which we have come to associate with him does not always obtrude itself when he strives more for characterisation of his sitters. This portrait, painted in 1600, in his Spanish period, is one of the most successful of his single heads. The eyes, especially, are well painted, and an advance on Titian’s convention, with whom eyes often look like buttonholes. There is a flavour of modernity about the simply and frankly stated light and shade, and in the direct manner of painting his edges, which his Venetian masters generally painted more or less sharp and then achieved their soft edge by glazings and retouchings.

The greatest of the Spaniards, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez, is well represented. Since the name of Velasquez is used more carefully than a hundred years ago we may not accept indisputably all of the thirteen paintings that hang here under his name. The ” Portrait of Queen Maria Anna ” (No. 605), for instance, does not in the least satisfy as far as colour and execution are concerned. Further, the ” Portrait of the Infanta Margaretha Theresia ” (No. 609) is, according to C. Justi, a work of Mazo, under the guidance of Velasquez; and the ” Portrait of Queen Isabella of Spain” (No. 622) is manifestly a studio copy, like the majority of this queen’s portraits, now found outside the country.

The ” Portrait of the Infanta Margaretha Theresia” (No. 621), at the age of twelve, has a curious interest. While it was formerly called the Infanta Maria Theresia, it was observed by Justi that the double eagle on her breast and the features indicate her to have been Margaretha, the bride of Emperor Leopold I. But since in the year of her engagement to the Emperor, in 1664, Velasquez had been dead three years, it is surmised that on an earlier portrait of the princess the features have been changed by a pupil to correspond with her slightly advanced age.

Four other portraits are undoubtedly by Velasquez’ own hand. These are the bust portrait of ” Philip IV ” (No. 607) ; the “Portrait of the Infante Philip Prosper” (No. 611), as a child of two years, standing by an armchair on which a small white dog lies ; the ” Portrait of the Infanta Margaretha Theresia” (No. 615), as a child of three or four years, in a pale red robe, holding in her left hand a fan, and leaning against a low table; and the ” Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresia” (No. 617), her half-sister, at the age of fifteen.

The other portraits (Nos. 612, 616, 618 and 619) are either studio works or copies from originals that are lost. One picture, disputed by Justi, must still be regarded as an original work by Velasquez. Frimmel, although acknowledging Justi as the greatest Velasquez authority, still claims that ” it is impossible to say who else could have painted it.”

This picture is the ” Laughing Boy ” (No. 613. Plate IX), one of those strongly characteristic types which the master loved to paint when not occupied with his royal commissions.

The portraits by Velasquez baffle description and praise. When we gaze upon these paintings we look into a room, into the reflection of a mirror, into open space — and we see a human being, alive, breathing, real. This genius among painters owed little to the example of any man. From the first he was a realist, seeing with his own eyes, going his own way. Even when Rubens was in Madrid and painted in the studio of Velasquez where the Spaniard must have watched the great Fleming a number of times — Rubens even, notwithstanding his resplendent and overwhelming power, did not have the least influence upon him. He remained true to his own originality, gradually and quietly maturing his power of execution, running a simple course of evolution from beginning to end, without ever seeking to alter his style, or to improve the quality of his realism.

The four portraits by his own hand which I have pointed out have that striking relief and perfect solidity of real beings; and the marvellous envelopment of air with which he surrounds them gives a peculiar intensity of illusion and appearance of life. His cardinal quality may also be studied in these portraits. Velasquez was the supreme master of values — that is, painting the same colour under varying intensity of light. And he does this so unobtrusively, with such precision and certainty, as no man ever had done, or has done since. The question will never be settled, who was the greatest portrait painter who ever lived — a futile question at any rate. But it must be conceded that the palm lies between two Frans Hals and Velasquez.

And when Velasquez left the court-circle, and painted beggars and urchins and our ” Laughing Boy,” he did it with the same serious sincerity that makes him the. most objective of all painters.

The son-in-law of Velasquez, Juan Battista del Mazo, his pupil and helper, is represented by a portrait group (No. 603), that probably shows the artist’s own family, for his heraldic device, a mailed arm holding a hammer (mazo), is in the upper left corner. His colouring was somewhat more sombre and flatter than that of his master.

A portrait by Carreño de Miranda, of King Charles II of Spain, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, does not flatter his royal sitter — it has a peculiar ghostly appearance. Still we must recognise in the technique a highly talented brush.

Next to Velasquez in importance to Spanish art stands Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The only painting catalogued under his name, ” John the Baptist as a Child” (No. 614), was already disputed by Waagen almost a hundred years ago. But a view of Murillo’s art may be had when we come to the Academy collection, which possesses one of his masterpieces.