Art Treasures of Washington – Contemporary Americans

HAVING dealt with the evolution and birth of the Corcoran Gallery, and considered its historic collections, we proceed to the gallery of contemporary American paintings, which constitutes its present growth, and where we find most vigorously ex-pressed the progressive spirit of the management. The collection numbers, at present, between forty and fifty works. Its development received direction and stimulus from the three biennial exhibitions of contemporary American art, from which twenty-eight works were purchased and added to the permanent collection.

Winslow Homer’s (1836-191o) ” Light on the Sea,” painted in 1897, is of his late middle period, and belongs to the type of picture of which the Luxembourg Museum owns .a masterpiece. The sky is stormy and the light on the sea lifts the horizon sharply against the threatening dark. A sea-gull flies low, and against the light a woman’s figure, posed on the rocks, at the water’s edge, forms a substantial silhouette. She is of the robust, masculine type, familiar to such surroundings, hardened by wind and weather, with something of the eternal about her. The face and arms are heavy with the strength of a life spent always in combat with the elements, and in her is that development, by association, that makes her part of nature itself.

For the rest, the water has a silver hue, with the variations and depth of a great opal, as it is played upon by the changing light and mood of the coming storm. The rocks are heavy with moisture. There is not much motion in the sea, only that heavy, rhythmic slosh of the water when the great basin is full, as it lifts and pulsates in response to the mysterious action of the moon. Homer studied and knew the sea profoundly.

William M. Chase is represented by the earliest of his series of still-life paintings, with fish. ” An English Cod ” was painted in London about seven years ago, and first shown at the centenary exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in 1905. The picture was painted in one sitting, which accounts, in a measure, for its brilliant unity. Throughout the making enthusiasm has held from start to finish. One of the best of his riper period, it proves the painter’s place amongst the foremost still-life painters of his time.

The canvas displays a powerful study of textures. The cod lies heavily lax upon a large porcelain platter, its immense head resting upon the table, the mouth gaping — a great splendid specimen. It is a joyous bit of painting, this fish, with its exquisite pinks, its pearly grays, the blues and greens of the flesh, as it turns away from the light. Two hard little mackerel lie on the table before the monster, and the contrast in character and quality is ex-pressed in a masterly fashion. They, too, are of a beautiful iridescence. In the background is a brass kettle done in Chase’s most distinguished manner.

George DeForest Brush is represented in the collection by one of his series of madonna like pictures, entitled ” Mother and Child.” This particular example is done on a long panel, the figure of the mother standing, holding the baby, which brings the heads well up toward the top of the frame. The canvas develops the painter’s scholarly drawing, acquired from exhaustive study of the Florentines. His picture has classic repose, his technique is smooth and finished, while the colour is mellow and harmonious.

The woman’s face dominates, and is of unusual type, with fine arched brows and full sympathetic mouth. The chubby baby is less ‘real, less vital than in some others of the series, and his little hands are sharply done, like porcelain.

” Twilight,” by Alexander Harrison, is one of the three famous wave pictures, all of about equal merit, and representing the best of which the painter is capable. The other two are owned in Philadelphia. They were done at the painter’s ripest and most interesting period, and amply justify the reputation which Harrison enjoys, as a marine painter of strength and personality.

The Gallery has recently acquired examples of the chief exponents of the modern school of landscape painters, which add strength and interest to the collection. Of these ” The Delaware River,” by Edward W. Redfield, is of paramount importance as a fine, characteristic work of a man essentially a leader in the modern movement. The picture was purchased from the first of the biennial exhibitions, having been previously awarded the Webb Prize at the Society of American Artists.

The subject is one of the arrangements familiar to the locality in which the painter resides, and may be considered an admirable example of its period. The composition includes both banks of the river, with a strip of the island projected upon its partially frozen surface. The sun shines upon the distant shore, while the foreground is in shadow. Trees break the composition at the left margin. The painting is rich, direct, subtle and strong, producing a palpable sensation of a winter day, with its cold, beautiful colour, and brittle air.

Road to Centre Bridge,” in the collection of Charles C. Glover, of Washington, is less abstract than the oanvas owned by the Corcoran Gallery, and the pattern is richer and more varied. The roadway running past the house, on the left, and off into the picture, is marvellously rich, like an old mosaic, its deep wagon ruts filled with ice that reflects the note of the sky, through whose blue depths the warm sun filters. The distance is lit with diffused light passing through trees. Throughout there is strong character, luscious colour, controlled by a growing sense of beauty.

Redfield has preserved more than any painter of his generation, his open vision – his first plasticity. In the early days of struggle against popular prejudice, his work was elemental, presenting a remarkable lesson in simplification. As the years have passed, the painter has elaborated his theme, developed his colour, embroidered his pattern, be-come more subtle and more profound in his method, but without losing his primitive force.

As a leader, he has had a tremendous vitalizing influence upon the landscape painters of his day, giving a marked direction to the whole movement. For himself his strength lies in his originality, in his stupendous industry and indefatigable study of nature.

A decorative impulse animates the work of W. Elmer Schofield, and distinguishes it from that of his illustrious confrère. He is more sensitive to influences, but the work that is characteristic of him has a certain conventional treatment of colour, observes more formal composition and has a suggestion of tapestry, in tone and texture.

His art is of a distinguished quality and exhibits a good deal of variety. Though he received his early education at the Pennsylvania Academy and supplemented it by a course of Paris training, his long years of residence in England, on the Cornish Coast, where he married, have done most to give him the individual touch that separates him a little from the group of Pennsylvania painters. There is in his technique something that recalls the brush work of the English painters. Some of his studies of the coast at St. Ives — notably the one owned by the Metropolitan Museum (Hearn Collection), reveal artistic ability of a high order. Again, his series of the harbour at Dieppe is forceful and strongly personal.

The example owned by the Corcoran Gallery, ” Morning after Snow,” was painted in 1908, and purchased from the biennial exhibition of that year. The composition is in his favourite style. Shadow envelops a building in the left foreground, abutting on a canal. The early slanting rays of the morning sun strike the house in the middle distance, with a warm glow, and light the hilly, snow-covered country in the rear. The deep and narrow millrace is full of reflections and gives the note of colour to the picture — otherwise monotonously white with freshly fallen snow. The eye follows the canal to the sunlit house, where the reflection in the water is brightest. The painting is crisp and virile.

” March Snow,” in the collection of Mr. Glover, is characteristic of the more personal type of Schofield’s work, with its decorative design, its arbitrary greys and broad handling. Schofield is a vigorous, strong and charming personality, and much of him-self is reflected in his work.

” May Night,” by Willard L. Metcalf, was an epoch-making picture in the career of this artist. It received the Corcoran Gold Medal, with accompaniment of $1,000, in the first exhibition of contemporary American pictures, in 1907, and was purchased by the institution. The canvas is an attractive one by reason of its poetic subject, which is patterned out prettily and with a great deal of interest and charm of rendering in the drawing of the trees, and the placing of the translucent shadows, which enrich the smooth texture of the green sward before the old, Colonial type of southern mansion. The house itself stands in a glare of moonlight, which lifts into dazzling brilliance the pillars of the portico. If the canvas misses fire at all, it is in the treatment of the house, which is a little out of scale with its environment, in point of size and illumination; while, on the other hand, it is hard to fancy, in the face of .a somewhat thin façade, the bulk of the whole substantial structure.

The Colonial house represented in the picture is the old home in Lyme, Connecticut, where many of the artists resided and painted, and which is termed by them the ” Holy House.”

The Childe Hassam owned by the Gallery ” Northeast Headlands : New England Coast,” acquired at the same time, reveals a rare and original quality of vision. The composition includes high bluffs to the left, a stretch of pebbled beach, inter-mingled with seaweed, and, in the distance, a sweep of sea, cerulean blue, done with courage, most decoratively. The harmony of colour in this picture is absorbingly interesting. Taking blue as the note, Hassam has played the harmonies by contrast of a true impressionist; placing one colour against another, in the relation of quantity and depth, to make each count its utmost value in the vibrating whole. His headlands run to gorgeous aubergines, founded upon yellows, and through the beach the colour is of a most amusing variety.

The canvas is like the performance of a great virtuoso — or, better yet, the leader of an orchestra, who lifts at will the volume of sound, separates or mingles the choirs, picks out a French horn or an oboe for an effective passage, the bassoon for an accent, calls upon the piccolo to carry an air; while the great burden of the theme is sustained by the strings.

” After an April Shower ” by Charles Morris Young, is a recent purchase, representing the work of a third of the Pennsylvania landscape painters, who has devoted himself to the type known as the paysage intime. The canvas is characteristic of Young’s point of view, which is sensitive and temperamental, bringing the beholder at once under the atmospheric spell of its locality.

Of the present rapidly augmenting group of American landscape painters, Young was a pioneer in the field of snow painting, and his first canvases, exhibited in the early nineties, were pictures of the snowclad landscape in the vicinity of Philadelphia, or gleaned from the more picturesque and varied surroundings of Gettysburg, his native town. Known a dozen years ago as a painter of snow scenes, Young was again one of the first to depart from this uniformity of subject and to turn his attention to the more colourful effects of autumn, spring, or winter out of doors. Some years in France, painting in Monet’s country, developed, in the painter, a richer sense of colour and a more subtle quality of depth and atmosphere.

Of late subject appears to have interested him more than formerly, and his most recent output is interesting in its portraiture of the circumstances amidst which he now spends his life.

Young has become essentially a painter of Pennsylvania, through whose fertile landscape he occasionally records a bit of unmistakable architecture — an old bridge or a certain handsome old style house not built more. His trees, roadways, red mills, barns, cedars, and stone fences all bespeak the territory to which they give character and flavour; while from the manner of treatment one could well build up the kind of man so intimately affected by the familiar features of his environment. He does not search for eccentric arrangement, but gives again, and in ,a way very much his own, the sensation of the various moods of nature by which he has been influenced.

Daniel Garber’s ” April Landscape ” is the work of a serious painter in whose work the arrangement or design of the canvas is its most appealing qualification. He sees nature decoratively, making use of the hanging grape-vines and the patchy sycamore trees, which follow the canal, as interesting features in the foreground, through which are introduced glimpses of the river and the distant bank, with its various detail. If the canvas is a little thin, that in Garber appears to be the inevitable result of his limited scale and chalky colour. If it is over blue, that again is no affectation, no fault of insincerity, but a characteristic peculiarity of vision.

The collection includes an unsatisfactory example of that talented painter, Theodore Robinson (1852-1896), whose career was cut short before he fully matured. His place in the development of American landscape painting is an important one, because he, with Twachtman, brought to us the spirit of the French Impressionists. He lived some years in Giverny, where he became both pupil and friend of Claude Monet, with whose work Robinson was greatly in sympathy. ” The Valley of the Seine from Giverny Heights ” but vaguely suggests the things for which this gifted painter stood.

” Lady with a Mask ” is one of those patiently minute portraits of women in outdoor setting, upon which Thomas W. Dewing has exclusively specialized. His work has something of the charm of old Oriental pottery in its craftsmanship. His effects are attained by a deliberate system of glazing and staining, not unlike that of the potter’s art.

His drawing is of a fragile perfection, within the strict limits which Dewing has proscribed for himself. His work shows almost no variety, and it is extraordinary how little fatigue the process betrays.

The ” Ave Maria ” of Horatio Walker was one of the purchases from the first biennial exhibition, and may be considered a typical canvas from the brush of a painter who has had all the advantages of liberal patronage. Walker and Paul Dougherty are widely separated examples of a kind of idealism in art.

Paul Dougherty’s canvas ” Land and Sea ” is a representative example of his easy method of attack. There is power in the drawing of the water, ,and appreciation of the majestic in the big cliff which rises abruptly from its depths, and is verdant within a few feet of high water mark. But he lightens his sea beyond cheaply, and is at best a superficial observer.

Charles H. Davis is counted one of the earliest of the serious painters of landscape. He was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and studied with Otto Grundman and at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. In Paris he worked with Boulanger and Lefebvre. The Gallery possesses a fine, characteristic example of his early manner in ” The Deepening Shadows,” painted in 1884.

Ben Foster, Leonard Ochtman, Gardner Symons and H. Bolton Jones about complete the list of landscape painters represented in the collection.

Gari Melchers, that robust painter of figures under varying conditions, is ably represented in the Gallery by a well lighted interior with two warnen, which he calls ” Penelope.” A strong, vivacious, wholesome picture it is, broadly painted, with uncompromising colour, and a keen touch of the joy of living.

Melchers has not the finesse nor the faultless drawing of the Boston makers of paintings ; and, for that very reason, his work is the best of criticism upon their cramped ideals and too literal realism. He paints people of flesh and blood, of bone and sinew, in real situations. His subjects are placed out in the wholesome daylight; and he creates problems for himself by opposing to them strong coloured objects — like the green lamp, in the present instance — and he dresses them in joyous coloured gowns, whose effective patterns make difficulties in the flesh painting against which he likes to pit his strength. ” Penelope” received a silver medal ,at the third of the biennial exhibitions, and was purchased for the permanent collection.

The Gallery preserves a fine example of J. J. Shannon —” Girl in Brown “— painted in 1907. The canvas shows the influence of the painter’s long residence in London, where he has become a portrait painter of importance. Harmonious, rich, distinguished, and beautiful in its quality of colour, the Girl in Brown ” makes also her personal appeal by reason of her piquant face, so delicately modelled.

” Groupa d’Amis ” also bears the ear marks of foreign influence, and is the work of Robert Lee MacCameron, who has resided in Paris practically since his early student days, though he was born in Chicago. The canvas is well painted, extremely fine in appreciation of contrasts and sympathetic in character. The painter’s impression of the famous heure verte is somewhat sordid and horrible, yet the artistic merits of the picture raise it above the merely literary, and reveal much beauty of colour and truth of observation.

” An Ancestor,” by Walter MacEwen, was purchased from the second biennial exhibition, and is a representative canvas by another American artist who resides permanently in Paris. It is an adequate example of MacEwen’s academic style.

Edmund C. Tarbell, the most noted of the Boston painters, is represented by one of those charming, quiet interiors, entitled Josephine and Mercie,” painted from his own daughters in 19o8, and purchased by the Corcoran Gallery from its biennial of that year. The picture antedates the much medalled rendering of the same subject, shown in the third of the Gallery’s exhibitions, and now in the collection of Dr. George Woodward, of Philadelphia. The same room is depicted, and apparently one, at least, of the two girls is the same, but the scene is shifted a little to the left, and the composition is more accidental.

A contemporary painter remarked with some enthusiasm of this picture, when it was first shown, that it was the most thorough example of sawing wood that he had ever seen. Professional comment must be allowed its quaintness. What he felt in the picture was the remarkable solving of every problem according to the absolutely legitimate rules of the game. Here we have an interior, in diffused light, with the ordinary accidental furnishings and two figures : one of the most difficult technical problems of which it is possible to conceive.

In its solution Tarbell resorts to no evasion of the real issue. He paints his picture object by object, with the utmost thoroughness; and he keeps each detail in its place, not by focussing upon one spot and allowing everything else to recede from the visual point until it loses itself in a misty envelopment, but by force of absolute relative colour value.

If he appears to miss the human interest and vigour of the work of VerMeer, Ter Borch or Metsu, to whom it is the fashion to compare him, it is doubtless because our intimacy with the types and subjects he presents blinds us to the virtues of their equally veracious colloquialism.

” La Femme au Chien,” of Mary Cassatt, be-longs to an early, immature period of this most important American painter, but has, at the same time, some qualities of investigation, and a certain quaintness which distinguishes it from the work of her later more professional period.

” Narcissa is an amusing nude by Sargeant Kendall, depicting a child standing on a couch regarding herself in a long mirror. The flesh is a little hard, according to Kendall’s formula, but the drawing is fine and the composition original.

A recent acquisition by Richard Miller entitled ” The Boudoir,” is the direct antithesis of the style of these more academic masters. It presents a charming, rather slight sketch of a lady at her toilette, which is refreshing in colour, suggesting the purity and directness of a pastel.

Robert Reid, who is classed amongst the painters influenced by the French Impressionists, is represented in the Gallery by an interesting experiment in opposing lights, entitled ” The Open Fire.” It treats of a problem always fascinating to an artist, that of a figure affected by artificial light in a room from which the effect of day has not yet vanished.

Reid treats it in a colourful way, developing an amusing harmony of complementary colours.

” Peonies,” by Wilton Lockwood, is a pretty can-vas, clever in its delicate suggestion of the fresh quality of the flowers, and in a pleasing envelopment of tone, which unifies the values, and brings into the general effect of the canvas a certain re-semblance to tapestry.

The Gallery is loyal to the local artists, of which it preserves examples of Edmund Clarence Messer, the principal of the Corcoran School of Art; of Max Weyl, Richard N. Brooke, James Henry Moser, and William H. Holmes, the Curator of the National Gallery of Art.

Mr. Messer’s canvas, ” January,” was painted in 1911. It is a poetic rendering of a winter landscape with a lowering sky and low-flying birds. The painter is a New Englander by birth. He was born in Skowhegan, Maine, studied at the National Academy of Design, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and with Collin, Courtois and Aimé Morot in Paris. He has been principal of the Corcoran School in Washington since 1902.

Max Weyl has been for years associated with the art life of Washington, though he is a German, having been born in Wurtemberg. He came to America in 1855. Of his two canvases in the Corcoran Gallery, ” Approaching Night ” is a landscape of unusual quality, revealing a poetic feeling and a tenderness in both subject and rendering that are characteristic of this gentle Teuton. ” Lovers’ Lane ” is pastoral in subject and in his general style.

” A Pastoral Visit ” is an early work of Richard N. Brooke, having been painted in 1881. It is a homely domestic scene with a wealth of faithful detail, characteristic of a negro home in Virginia. Mr. Brooke is a Virginian. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and in Paris under Bonnat and Benjamin Constant. He was elected vice-principal of the Corcoran School of Art in 1902.

The example of William H. Holmes is a water colour, entitled ” Midsummer,” freely painted and delightful in colour. Mr. Holmes was born in Harrison County, Ohio, and took up water colour painting at an early age, without a master. In 1872 he joined the United States Geological Survey of the Territories as artist, and, although turning his attention almost immediately to geologic and archaeologic studies, he has at all times kept up the practice of his chosen profession. The results of his artistic feeling may be appreciated at the National Museum, in the arrangements of the exhibits and in the designing of the many Indian groups, executed, under his direction, by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, sculptor.

Two water colours, by James Henry Moser, are included in the collections of the Gallery, and ex-press the painter’s facility with the medium. Moser is a native of Whitby, Ontario, making his winter home in Washington and his summer residence in Connecticut. The National Gallery preserves a more important example of his work, which is referred to in the chapter dealing with the Evans Collection.