French Art – The Outlook

WHATEVER the painting of the future is to be, it is certain not to be the painting of Monet. For the present, no doubt, Monet is the last word in painting. To belittle him is not only whimsical, but ridiculous. He has plainly worked a revolution in his art. He has taken it out of the vicious circle of conformity to, departure from, and return to abstractions and the so-called ideal. No one hereafter who attempts the representation of nature—and for as far ahead as we can see with any confidence, the representation of nature, the pantheistic ideal if one chooses, will increasingly intrench itself as the painter’s true aim—no one who seriously attempts to realize this aim of now universal appeal will be able to dispense with Monet’s aid. He must per-force follow the lines laid down for him by this astonishing naturalist. Any other course must result in solecism, and if anything future is certain, it is certain that the future will be not only inhospitable to, but absolutely intolerant of, solecism. Henceforth the basis of things is bound to be solid and not superficial, real and not fantastic. But—whether the future is to commit itself wholly to prose, or is to preserve in new conditions the essence of the poetry that, in one form or another, has persisted since plastic art began—for the super-structure to be erected on the sound basis of just values and true impressions it is justifiably easy to predict a greater interest and a more real dignity than any such preoccupation with the basis of technic as Monet’s can possibly have. And though, even as one says it, one has the feeling that the future is pregnant with some genius who will out-Monet Monet, and that painting will in some now inconceivable way have to submit hereafter to a still more rigorous standard than it does at present—I have heard the claims of binocular vision urged—at the same time the true “child of nature ” may console himself with the reflection that accuracy and competence are but the accidents, at most the necessary phenomena, of what really and essentially constitutes fine art of any kind—namely, the ex-pression of a personal conception of what is not only true but beautiful as well. In France less than anywhere else is it likely that even such a powerful force as modern realism will long dominate the constructive, the architectonic faculty, which is part of the very fibre of the French genius. The exposition and illustration of a theory believed in with a fervency to be found only among a people with whom the intelligence is the chief element and object of experiment and exercise, are a natural concomitant of mental energy and activity. But no theory holds them long in bondage. At the least, it speedily gives place to another formulation of the mutinous freedom its very acceptance creates. And the conformity that each of them in succession imposes on mediocrity is always varied and relieved by the frequent incarnations in masterful personalities of the natural national traits—of which, I think, the architectonic spirit is one of the most conspicuous. Painting will again become creative, constructive, personally expressive. Its basis having been established as scientifically impeccable, its super-structure will exhibit the taste, the elegance, the imaginative freedom, exhibited within the limits of a cultivated sense of propriety, that are an integral part of the French painter’s patrimony.

( Originally Published 1892 )

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