Some painters, like Sir Joshua Reynolds, have formulated a theory of their art, only to ignore it in practice; others, like David and Monet, have held rigidly to a system, some-what at the cost of their art. Those who have been theorists and have successfully applied their philosophy in pigment may be counted on the fingers of one hand. The late Eugene Corriere not only did this but also had the skill to put his philosophy into words. Hence M. Morice’s book, which is based on the written and spoken words of his friend, affords a practically unique opportunity to study the inmost soul of a great artist. Criticism one must not expect. One has something better: the picture of a man and mind harmoniously devoted to an exceptional and highly personal form of pictorial _expression.
“We must consent to life,” was Carriere’s favorite aphorism, and it conveys the spirit of his philosophy. We must make the most lavish expenditure of sympathy, seek the greatest number of contacts, welcome all sacrifices, bear all burdens, in order that we may experience the unity of the human lot, the intimate bonds between man and the inanimate universe, the interdependence of the present and the past. If the aim of life is universal sympathy, its goal is universal understanding, the recourse being always to what Pascal calls “the reason of the heart.” Only through the perception of the infinitely numerous and subtle bonds that are gathered into each single human experience can we really hope to know any individual-or indeed ourselves. We must have felt with everything in order to interpret what lies nearest us. In brief, we must exercise to the utmost the sense of pity and altruism. “Let us restore to that beautiful word sentimentality,” writes Carriere, “all its high and happy significance.”
Since this chart of life seems to be the very contradiction of the dogma of art for art, it is instructive to note what close parallels it finds in the thinking of so avowed a Pyrrhonist as Walter Pater, of so metaphysical an aesthete as Lafcadio Hearn. In the remarkable epilogue to The Renaissance Pater has admirably set forth the notion of physical continuity :
“Far out on every side of us those elements [that make up the body] are broadcast, driven in many currents; and birth and gesture and death and the springing of violets from the grave are but a few out of ten thousand resultant combinations. . . . This at least of flame-like our life has, that it is but the concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting sooner or later on their ways.”
But the process that to Pater seemed awful and impersonal-affording at best a few moments of sublime contemplation to an attentive spirit-seemed to Carriere instinct with possibilities of tenderness. It responds to our love and admiration. Our love completes and gives a kind of fixity to what would other-wise be a flux. “Tradition,” he insists, “is merely the human form of nature.” It is this fine and true phrase that brings his philosophy near Lafcadio Hearn’s later speculation. Departing from the ghostliness of aesthetic enjoyment, the sense that it has all been experienced before, Hearn declares that such impressions are “the responses of innumerable dead to exterior influence-the weirdest resurrections of buried faculties.” And again in a bolder sweep of affirmation he cries: “No thought can utterly perish. All life is force; the record of everything must pass into the infinite.
Now, what is this force that shapes and unshapes universes ? Might it not be old thoughts and passions of men ? The ancient East so declares.”
To Hearn, again, these influences seemed to lie chiefly in the past and to partake of the inevitable. An infinitesimal responsibility each of us has to the moral cosmos, but hardly more than that. Carriere viewed the matter less passively. Pater’s counsel to be a sensitive spectator of life he would have regarded as infamous. Hearn’s more humane, if solitary, scepticism would have struck him as an unworthy refusal to accept Iife. His own maxims were of the most affirmative sort. Boethius’s assertion-which was Plato’s also-that love is the universal bond of things he would have highly approved, and its symbolic echo in the last line of the Divine Comedy:
Amor the fece it sol e l’altre stelle.
St. Francis’s “Hymn to the Sun” is an even closer parallel. In fact, Carriere’s fundamental maxims were highly practical and, though he was never formally a Christian, might be summed up in the Pauline metaphor: “Ye are members one of another.”
Realizing the infinite complexity and extent of the human web, and desiring merely to illuminate certain typical portions of it, he naturally and wisely limited his subjects to the persons with whom his own rapport was close and intuitive-his own family and his intimate friends. More than half his work would fall under these rubrics. M. Morice declares that Corriere never painted a person he did not esteem, imputing a curious dignity even to his professional models. But we should misunderstand the attitude of the great intimist toward the portraits and the groups representing motherhood if we imagined they were merely so many records of isolated observation. Those two family groups in the Luxembourg are much more than the _expression of a father’s feeling for wife and children; such portraits as the “Edmond de Goncourt,” the “Daudet,” the “Rodin,” are far more than so many pictorial souvenirs of so many friendships. Every picture of his is a groping after the universal experience that is symbolized in the individual; the best of the pictures are triumphant assertions of principles that hold for humanity at large. We know that he felt no individual life could be interpreted except by the perception of its bonds with all nature.
Conversely, we may believe that he came to clear understanding of these complex inter-relations only through divining them at focus in the individuals he loved best; for Carriere, with all his passion for broad speculation, remained essentially the painter, and has assured us that in the case of the painter it is the “forms that suggest ideas.” Every canvas, then, represents a double but a harmonious intention-an attempt to plumb an emotional abyss, a desire to present a thing seen refined of all accidents and raised to its highest reality. Accordingly, it would be impossible to find an artist of equal eminence to whom the mere pageantry of life, its grosser appearances, made so little appeal. In this fact lies the contrast between Carriere and the great predecessor with whom he had so much in common, Rembrandt. The fantastic vagaries, the love of masquerade, in the Dutchman would to the Parisian have seemed, if not a derogation, at least a waiver of the simplicity and directness of his art. They do indeed bespeak, if not a less single ideal, a lower degree of culture; and this is said with the purpose of discriminating solely and without seeking to draw a superficial Plutarchian parallel.
If one sought a quintessential word to convey human compassion and sacrifice at their loftiest, if one were to choose a single experience to contain the idea of the persistence of life through. love, that word and that experience would be motherhood. It was with a fine recognition of this truth that Latin Christianity soon added the figure of the Virgin, Deipara, to the masculine pantheon of Jewish Christianity. In a more universal, because a less theological, sense, Buddhism invoked a divine woman of pity, Kwannon. And one may say that the groups which Carriere painted of his wife and children, two of which are fortunately at the Luxembourg, have a significance hardly less universal. One feels of these children, enwrapped in one shadow with their mother, that they are truly flesh of her flesh, and that the bond has cost her and will cost infinite pains and apprehensions. One perceives, too, that this burden of the flesh and spirit is borne with a ferocious joy that again borders on the intolerable. We find in this quiet latter-day embodiment an allegory, to express which mediaeval art had recourse to the crude symbolism of the pelican tearing her breast for the sustenance of her young. Maternity appears as a Promethean function, as if the gods pursued the giver of life with grievous punishments: penalties accepted proudly, however, and even courted for their own sake. It is again a conception that the Middle Ages grasped feebly when they enumerated the seven joys against the seven woes of the Virgin. But we should note that in becoming more intimate and pathetic Carriere’s reading of the theme has lost nothing of universality. Indeed, by hinting at the artificial pains and hazards of maternity in our day he has gained something in veraciousness, has made his symbolism more poignant.
Possibly this is his most valuable contribution to the subject-matter of art. The hieratic representations of motherhood have almost universally slurred or actually sup-pressed the anguish through which that dignity is won. It costs the Venus Genetrix no more to increase her happy progeny than it did of old time to free herself from the foam. Carriere, who has written a fine page on this classical symbol of fecundity, appreciated its splendid naturalism, but found it inapplicable to his own times. He might have noted the same titanesque qualities in the Christian Madonnas almost without exception, or, better yet, in that Buddhist goddess who radiantly gives birth to the divine child in the clouds. But to accept these blither forms of the theme would have been to falsify the complexity of the relation as he observed it in the mother of his children. He had to do with an eternal principle of fealty to the race asserted in the face of physical and social conditions that make such loyalty doubly perilous and fraught with sacrifice. Since it is unlikely that mod-ern womanhood in the so-called privileged classes can ever regain the healthy animalism of old time, it is likely that Carriere’s type will be not merely documentary for our age but also valid for the remoter future.
If the “Maternities” of Carriere all express the symbolic, nay, the sacramental nature of that high sacrifice of the individual to the race, it is true only in a lower degree that his portraits, too, are all generalized types-and this without ceasing to be likenesses. In each face he read what was true for kindred human experiences. Thus in the “Edmond de Goncourt” there is a striking irradiation of that sensuous fastidiousness and hauteur which might be predicated of every dilettante from Sardanapalus down. The “Alphonse Daudet” breathes the eternal boyishness, the cultivated whimsicality, that characterizes all minor and highly self-conscious manifestations of literary genius. It smiles sadly and understandingly at the “Erasmus” of Holbein; it would grace an edition of Ronsard. The “Rodin’.. again is the type of that leonine melancholy, that essential simplicity and energy that has marked the greater geniuses of the creative sort. Carriere’s portraits of himself typify rather the self-contained enthusiasm of the seer. It is a face that, grown old, would strangely resemble Donatello’s eternally vivid mask of Marsilio Ficino the Platonist. In every case we have an attempt of the mind to assert what is permanent in that ephemeral association of forces which we call a personality. One might even say that Carriere and Rodin alike, both believers in the principle of correspondences, both convinced that the artist’s vision has a higher reality and validity than the so-called facts of observation, deal in a sort of visual Hegelianism, but the phrase would imply a greater doctrinarianism than I intend. In any case it is instructive to note that two great artists, professing an identical aesthetic, have arrived at a product so essentially different. You will nowhere find in Carriere the morbid profundities of Rodin-the Dantesque preoccupation with the nether depths of evil; and-you will find the tenderness of Carriere only episodically in the work of Rodin. In artistic creation temperament is, after all, the master-an Ariel to which mind is a more or less serviceable Caliban.
Certain readers may take it amiss that I have said so much about a remarkable life without furnishing a single biographical fact, and more, perhaps, will deplore the literary infatuation that can perpetrate so many words about a great technician without rising to the drawing-master’s point of view. In apology, I can only say that aside from Carriere’s art there is practically nothing to say. When we have noted that he was born in 1849, at Gournay, and studied at the Academy of Strasburg; in obedience to his father, tried to be a manufacturer, but had to give it up; entered Cabanel’s atelier in 1869, only to enlist in the army of defence and be taken prisoner; married in 1877; gradually struggled toward the success he began to attain by 1882, and suffered heroically from cancer until, after two years, death released him in March, 1906
when we have said this, his formal biography is complete. No man ever lived more thoroughly the inner life, and whatever is valuable in that intimate record is in his pictures. We may infer his relation with his wife and his six children in a whole series of beautiful works; the story of the critics, his friends, who encouraged him in the obscure years-Marx, Morice, above all Geoffroy, appears in the portraits, and the same roll avows his admirations-Rodin, Anatole France, Daudet, Puvis, Verlaine, Metchnikoff. What does it profit us, then, to recall that in 1879 he exhibited his first picture at the Salon and became the object of polemics, that the same year he happily failed to carry off the Prix de Rome, that in 1881 he won his first medal, that from the next year the state began to buy his works, until, in 1889, he received a medal of honor and the ribbon of the Legion, and therewith the guinea stamp for his work ? That year a well-meaning acquaintance remarked that to “arrive” at forty was, after all, doing better than the average, to which Carriere smilingly rejoined: “I don’t compete with it !” So much biographical small change I concede grudgingly to those who want it.
For declining to ascend prematurely the high seat of the drawing-master, my excuse is similar. Carriere himself perversely chose to give precedence to precisely such general considerations as have detained us. He was more concerned with his attitude toward life than with his manipulation of the brush. Indeed, on the matter of his peculiar craftsmanship, he is reticent. One may gather only by hints what he intended by his notably evasive manner, and his critics have given rein to esoteric and not very happy interpretations of the mist that envelops his strongly asserted forms. In fact, this fog has bothered everybody. It was the subject of easy ridicule and malicious legend. It used to be whispered about the ateliers of Paris that he got it by observing his subjects through skilfully chosen veils. Some tried this simple recipe, but nobody got the effect. M. Morice regards this twilight as an arcanum-” in which the magnetic waves from which and through which human beings are evolved may be perceived. Carriere de-fines them in an atmosphere that keeps their universal relations intact.” Mr. Arthur Symons, in his essay on “Nineteenth Century Painting,” takes much the same view, writing: “Carriere evokes a mist or twilight which clothes his humanity with that tenderness that lurks transformingly behind our eyes when we look at one another, not in observation (which is science), but in love (which is the beginning of art).” Of the two, Mr. Symons’s explanation is the clearer and more suggestive of the creative act, but either commentary is perilously remote from the simple appearance, which we shall do well to consider at last under the dry light that the drawing-master affords.
Considered merely as so much workmanship, a painting of Carriere is a brusque, powerful, and structural drawing, with infinite super-added strokes-true caresses of the brush, which at once express the main tensions of skin and muscle over bone, impart a uniform feeling-asserting the dominant mood of the individual-and also bind the object to the enveloping brown atmosphere. The pregnancy of this method, the extraordinary manner in which the palpable form advances and recedes in the obscurity, is based on a learned apprehension of the actual bulk and dimensions of the object. One cannot observe the delightful bits of still life that adorn the interiors of Carriere without perceiving that he understands form in the severe and classical sense. Indeed, one may say that all the artists who have successfully delineated, not in lines or conventional chiaroscuro, but in atmospheric planes, adopting all the short cuts of the human eye itself, have first mastered the analytical method. One need only recall the early painting of Rembrandt or Velasquez. The failure to achieve this pedantic but necessary certitude is what vitiates the fascinating art of Monet and marks the inferiority of the “Intimists” who have tried to follow in Carriere’s footsteps. His own hand plays so freely with the modelling, suppressing in the main, exaggerating fearlessly at will, because the brush never loses its touch with the under-lying form.
Taking this method now from the onlooker’s point of view, we begin to get the meaning of the much-debated mist. Whatever it is or is not, it is surely an attenuating of the gaunt and perhaps intolerably poignant first painting that lies beneath. The “Maternities,” the portraits, are in their inception of an emotional appeal that exceeds the bounds of discretion. Carried to completion by the so-called realistic methods, the appeal would be unreasonable, the effect would approach caricature of the sentimental order. The mist, then, whatever may be its more recondite function-and I doubt if it has one-represents the sort of reserve that the true poet or the fine orator interposes between himself and the public when the emotion veers toward the painful. In pity for us Corriere will give us only so much of his affections as we may properly share, and his method of painting makes that share a shifting one, according to the capacity of the seeing eye. For the mist is variously penetrable, both as regards the form and the emotion it enfolds.
So far we have regarded Carriere’s favorite twilight as chiefly negative-a veil for what would otherwise be too cruelly exposed. It is, of course, more than that. It permits a swift and highly intense execution in which the representation of form and the rendering of emotion proceed as by a single process. I do not mean to suggest that a fine painting at any stage is coldly put together, but it is clear that by the ordinary methods of analytical draftsmanship and successive repaintings much of the work is relatively inert, making not for the general impression but for the mere re-cording of the form. A great painter will preserve the primal emotion through all these mechanical stages; a highly sensitive genius will gladly abridge them, and, as a matter of fact, we find practically all the keenly interpretative painters passing rapidly from the slower to the swifter methods. In a painting by Carriere one may safely say there was no inert or merely mechanical stage-no suspension of the first enthusiasm. As he drew the harsh fundamental image, itself highly expressive, into more suave and complicated forms, every flick of the brush served a double purpose. It asserted a marked physical trait selected from many only because it implied something in character. Only by this swift and intense method could that admirable portrait of Verlaine have been done in a single morning while the “Sitter” took his holiday from hospital by strolling and chattering incessantly about the atelier. If anybody would understand the difference between expressive draftsmanship and mere competent rendering of form let him take the poorest cut of the Verlaine into the Taylorian Institution, Oxford, and compare the print with the clever portraits that Professor Herkomer also did each in a half-day for the edification of artistic Oxford.
To have done with this famous mist, it seems to need no more recondite explanation than that given above, being the predestined vehicle for Carriere’s tense and intuitive emotionalism. Indeed, it is hard to see either how he could have expressed himself in any other way or why any one else should presume to borrow so idiosyncratic a mode of _expression. From the point of view of simple craftsmanship it marked an effort toward economy of means. Lafcadio Hearn dreamed of a similar prose style. “My own hope,” he wrote to Miss Bisland, “is to do something in accordance with this idea: no descriptions, no preliminaries, no explanations-nothing but the feeling itself at highest intensity. I may fail utterly; but I think I have divined a truth which will yet be recognized by stronger minds than mine. The less material the more force:-the subtler the power the greater, as water than land, as wind than water, as mind than wind.” Then, with a curious echo of Carriere’s theory of correspondences, he adds: “I would like to say something about light, heat, electricity, rates of ether vibration-but the notion will work itself out in your own beautiful mind without any clumsy attempts of mine to illustrate.”
It would be pleasant and perhaps wise to take leave of Corriere with these illuminating words of an artist in letters. But M. Morice makes one or two claims for his hero which we should still scrutinize, and there are withal one or two pregnant sayings of Corriere that I would not willingly omit. When M. Morice declares that Corriere was not only a great colorist but also a great decorator he strains sorely the accepted meaning of these words. When he writes that “the grand harmonic lines and magnetic vibrations of these paintings are arbitrarily interrupted by the brutal presence of the frame, and would find their true melodic (?) continuation, their natural outlet, in the architectural lines of building as in the logical movement of crowds and the open air,” he comes pretty near to writing nonsense. We read of the Chinese painter who walked into his own screen and disappeared forever, but it never yet was a decorative merit for any picture to strain at its established bounds, or to present itself as a thoroughfare either for architectural lines or for human beings in throngs. Indeed, the intimate sentiment and the vaporous method of Corriere seem to preclude excellence in the monumental style. This mist pretty well disguises that large and simple balance of line and mass which is the very essence of good mural painting. For that matter Carriere’s twelve panels of the Sciences in the Hotel de Ville would convince any unprejudiced observer that here was unrealized intention and mediocre decoration-a whisper where the full voice was emphatically required.
To say that Carriere was a great colorist is merely to abuse the word great. An exquisite colorist he undoubtedly was, obtaining every loveliness of tint that his convention permitted. And his manner invited beautiful opalescences where the light falls upon the flesh, and permitted occasionally the contrast of a dull red or green garment seen in the brown air. But, generally speaking, color in Corriere is a thin and subtile accompaniment played about a melody-to admit M. Morice’s word-conceived in monochrome. I hope not to be suspected of confusing mere polychromy with splendid coloring when I say that we can properly speak of a man as a great colorist only when he employs something like the whole scale, and compels a harmony out of the extremes of the palette. We need not say that a man who has limited his palette or even renounced color entirely is thereby less an artist. There are fortunately many kinds of excellence. But we merely darken counsel when we insist that a man who has subordinated color to tone or mood is nevertheless a great colorist. To illustrate Titian, Giorgione, Veronese, Rubens, Claude, Vermeer, Watteau, Tiepolo, Turner, Renoir, these may, it seems to me, fairly be called great as colorists. Velasquez is great at times in this regard and could have been anything he wished, but since his conception of character led him progressively to the subordination of color to tone and atmospheric effect, we may more accurately call him a fine than a great colorist. Rembrandt, I feel, belongs also to this category; in fact, one can hardly conceive any supremacy in painting as such without the color sense fully developed. On the other hand, we must judge artists by what they elect to be, not by our estimate of their latent powers. We only mess matters when we call Chopin a sublime composer for the orchestra, because he is lord of the pianoforte. In fact when we ignore the renunciations that an artist imposes upon himself we go far toward effacing all distinctions and proclaiming the nullity of criticism itself.
But I have dwelt too long upon these exceptional vagaries of Carriere’s friend and eulogist. There remains the more rewarding task of putting together three or four sayings of the artist that show unmistakably his attitude toward his work. For its vitality we have the bold metaphor: “The body is a repousse, not a cast.” It is, in other words, not a mere surface to be explored and coldly represented, but something thrust out into space and there maintained by the pulsating forces within. The element of sacrifice and artful exaggeration in his method is explained in the distinction he draws between “the figure presented in its ensemble, containing the details, and the figure devoured by the details and losing the unity of its essential form.” We have seen that he regarded every work of his as a symbol of manifold relations, as a type of all kindred things. This thought finds _expression in a simile devoted to the sculpture of Rodin, but equally true of his own painting: “So the earth projects from its surface visible forms, images, statues which fill us with a sense of its inner life.” We are to read, that is, the fragmentary evidence we have in a marble of Rodin or a canvas of Carriere much as the geologist reads the vicissitudes of the earth on an ex-posed ledge or broken-down river terrace. It is an art, in fine, that asks co-operation of the seer. To an inattentive mind it can reveal little.
Carriere is still so near us that it would be vain to inquire as to his ultimate place in the history of art. Indeed such class lists are rarely quite worth the pains. It is enough for us to recall that he pursued a narrow vein with singular tenacity and insight. His painting must be measured not by its extent but by its depth.
He has contributed a peculiar nervous tension to portraiture which, whether of enduring value or not, is highly characteristic of our age. He has given the eternal theme of motherhood a new poignancy. In the striving of his brush toward that manifold suggestiveness which is the peculiar function of poetry he is again eminently of our times, and in this Andersstreben he is something more or less than French. Clarity, a sense of limits, has been the ruling trait of French painting from the first. One may observe it in fourteenth-century missals and in the latest work of Degas. In the at-tempt to freight a canvas with a general theory of life Carriere approaches the German mood or the English. Seeking “something far more deeply interfused,” he transcends in a manner the bounds of his craft, and takes his place beside such symbolists as Blake or Watts. It was an emprise that would have been disastrous in one without the craftsman’s conscience, and it was the vivid sense of scientific reality and the joy in the manipulation of the brush that kept Carriere upright in a path where hundreds have fallen. The future historian, while citing him as a glory of the French school at the end of the nineteenth century, will hardly fail to note what an isolated apparition he was as exceptional in that Paris from which he drew so electric a sense of life, as exceptional if not as portentous as Rembrandt was in Holland, as Velasquez in Spain.