French Art – Landscape Painters, Fromentin And Guillaumet

OF the realistic landscape painters, the strict impressionists apart, none is more eminent than M. Cazin, whose work is full of interest, and if at times it leaves one a little cold, this is perhaps an affair of the beholder’s temperament rather than of M. Cazin’s. He is a thoroughly original painter, and, what is more at the present day, an imaginative one. He sees in his own way the nature that we all see, and paints it not literally but personally. But his landscapes invariably attest, above all, an attentive study of the phenomena of light and air, and their truth-fulness is the more marked for the personality they illustrate. The impression they make is of a very clairvoyant and enthusiastic observation exercised by an artist who takes more pleasure in appreciation than in expression, whose pleasure in his expression is subordinate to his interest in the external world, and in large measure confined to the delight every artist has in technical felicity when he can attain it. Their skies are beautifully observed—graduated in value with delicate verisimilitude from the horizon up, and wind-swept, or drenched with mist, or ringing clear, as the motive may dictate. All objects take their places with a precision that, nevertheless, is in nowise pedantic, and is perfectly free. Cazin’s palette is, moroever, a thoroughly individual one. It is very pure, and if its range is not great, it is at any rate not grayed into insipidity and ineffectualness, but is as positive as if it were more vivid. A distinct air of elegance, a true sense of style, is note-worthy in many of his pictures ; not only in the important ones, but occasionally when the theme is so slight as to need hardly any composition whatever—the mere placing of a tree, its outline, its relation to a bank or a roadway, are often unmistakably distinguished. Cazin is not exclusively a landscape painter, and though the landscape element in all his works is a dominant one, even in his “Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert,” and his “Judith Setting out for Holofernes’s Camp ” (in which latter one can hardly identify the heroine at all), the fact that he is not a landscape painter, pure and simple, like Harpignies and Pointelin, perhaps accounts for his inferiority to them in landscape sentiment. In France it is generally assumed that to devote one’s self exclusively to any one branch of painting is to betray limitations, and there are few painters who would not resent being called landscapists. Something, perhaps, is lost in this way. It witnesses a greater pride in accomplishment than in instinctive bent. But however that may be, Cazin never penetrates to the sentiment of nature that one feels in such a work as Harpignies’s “Moonrise,” for example, or in almost any of Pointelin’s grave and impressive landscapes. Hardly less truthful, I should say, though perhaps less intimately and elaborately real (a romanticist would say less superficially real) than Cazin’s, the work of both these painters is more pictorial. They have a quicker sense for the beautiful, I think. They feel very certainly much more deeply the suggestiveness of a scene. They are not so débonnaires in the presence of their problems. In a sense, for that reason, they understand them better. There is very little feeling of the desert, the illimitable space, where, according to Balzac, God is and man is not, in the ” Hagar and Ishmael ; ” indeed there seems to have been no attempt on the part of the painter to express any. True as his sand-heap is, you feel somehow that there may be a kitchen-garden or the entrance to a coal-mine on the other side of it, or a little farther along. And the landscape of the ” Judith,” fine as its sweep is, and admirable as are the cool tone and clear distance of the picture, might really be that of the ” south meadow ” of some particular ” farm ” or other.

The contrast which Guillaumet presents to Fromentin affords a very striking illustration of the ‘growth of the realistic spirit in recent years. Fromentin is so admirable a painter that I can hardly fancy any appreciative person wishing him different. His devoted admirer and biographer, M. Louis Gonse, admits, and indeed expressly records, Fromentin’s own lament over the insufficiency of his studies. Fond as he was of horses, for instance, he does not know them as a draughtsman with the science of such a conventional painter in many other respects as Schreyer. But it is not in the slightly amateurish nature of his technical equipment—realized perfectly by himself, of course, as the first critic of the technic of painting among all who have ventured upon the subject—that his painting differs from Guillaumet’s. It is his whole point of view. His Africa is that of the critic, the littérateur, the rafiné. Guillaumet’s is Africa itself. You feel before Guillaumet’s Luxembourg canvases, as in looking over the slightest of his vivid memoranda, that you are getting in an acute and concentrated form the sensations which the actual scenes and types rendered by the painter would stimulate in you, supposing, of course, that you were sufficiently sensitive. Fromentin, in comparison, is occupied in picture-making—giving you a beautifully colored and highly intelligent pictorial report as against Guillaumet’s actual reproduction. There is no question as to which of the two painters has the greater personal interest ; but it is just as certain that for abiding value and enduring charm personal interest must either be extremely great or else yield to the interest inherent in the material dealt with, an interest that Guillaumet brings out with a felicity and a puissance that are wholly extraordinary, and that nowadays meet with a readier and more sympathetic recognition that even such delicate personal charm as that of Fromentin.