THESE two rooms contain French pictures of the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. Salle Henri II. is badly lighted and even the important pictures, of which there are few, cannot be well seen.
In Salle des Sept Cheminées are most of the more noted works of David. Of these the Coronation of Napoleon is generally considered his masterpiece. There are real force in the lines, character and reality in the faces, which are all excellent portraits, and even the colouring in parts is magnificent. The Coronation was at Notre Dame on December 2, 1804.
David chose the instant when Napoleon, taking the crown from the Duc de Berg, who presented it on a velvet cushion, was about placing it on the head of the empress. She kneels at his feet clad in a white robe and crimson and gold mantle, her immense train lifted by the maids of honour, behind her. All the people present are, as has been stated, portraits, and David himself is seen on a platform sketching at a small table. The emperor is in the robes of state, with a laurel wreath on his brow. He stands with arms upraised, in profile, holding the crown, and it is a really wonderful likeness. The empress is also in profile, as she kneels with clasped hands and bent head. Behind the two, Pope Pius VII. is seated, his fingers lifted in blessing. He is a striking figure, and his face is full of intense life. About him are the clergy, beside him Cardinal Fesch. At the left of the emperor stand a crowd of notables and dignitaries and behind and at his side his brothers and sisters. Back upon the platform are other dignitaries and in a tribune above the empress at the left, the mother of the emperor with her suite.
As an historical picture it is really great. It has a shimmering, effective light, a noble colouring. The white robes and deep-toned crimsons and reds of mantles with the golden embroideries are as a critic has well said fairly ” organ-like ” in their tonal effect. When it was finished Napoleon went to David’s studio and with the empress and suite walked up and down before it for half an hour. Then, turning to the painter, and lifting his hat in his theatrical style, he said ” C’est bien, très bien; David, je vous salue.”
The Rape of the Sabines is an earlier canvas and it is interesting to see how very differently David and Poussin have treated the same subject. David’s is as classical, much better massed with no bad spotting, and no distribution of climax. The eye is carried at once to the centre of interest and is led gradually and by proper methods from point to point. It produces a really strong impression, even if individual positions are forced and blatantly posed.
Romulus stands in the centre, in profile, his shield on his arm, his right arm raised, poising his spear against Titus Tatius who is parrying the attack on the left of the picture. He holds his sword down, his right arm with its shield raised high. Between these two springs the wife of Romulus, Hersilca, with her arms outspread.
Near her many mothers are on their knees protecting their children, and behind them stands a woman on a pedestal holding her child aloft in her arms. The background is filled with the two armies. At the right are the Roman standards, and everywhere horses rear and plunge and over all is a feeling of rushing combat, hurt, however, by the posing attitudes of the principals in front. Some of the women express real despair, but the men are softened almost to the point of losing their sex. Romulus looks like a woman and Titus moves like one. The action is poor, they appear merely posing for their picture. The colouring is less unsatisfactory than in some of David’s classical pictures.
Leonidas at the Pass of the Thermopylæ is one of the series intended to decorate the Louvre, their subjects furnishing historical parallels to Napoleon’s greatness.
The Portrait of Pope Pius VII. is a vigorous likeness and shows David’s talent in this direction. He is seated on a large chair turned three-quarters to the left, holding a letter in his hand.
The Portrait of David as a youth is only a sketch. He is sitting in full face, holding his palette in his left hand, a brush in his right, and is apparently looking in a glass. He wears a gray redingote with large red collar and cuffs and white cravat. For David this is roughly executed but it has reality and even charm in the wistful eyes and rather mournful mouth.
The Portrait of Madame Recamier, left incomplete by David, was afterward finished by a pupil of his. The noted beauty is sitting with her feet straight out in front, face turned three-quarters to the spectator, her hair tied up on the top of her head. She is dressed in white in a gown as simple as her surroundings and in spite of a certain rigidity and an entire absence of the feeling of actual flesh, it is rarely beautiful painting. There are a severity of design and a total lack of ornament in the surroundings in the room, the background being an absolutely plain surface, unbroken except for a tall bronze lamp at the head of the couch. Madame Recamier herself liked the picture so little after David had it well started that she refused to sit any more.
Madame Vigée-Le Brun has two portraits in Salle III., one of herself with her daughter on her knees and the other of Madame Molé Raymond, an actress of the Comédie-Française. This latter is one of the most popular as it is also one of the very best of the painter’s portraits. It is often called The Girl with the Muff. One of the objections that M. Pillet urges against this popular approval is that it is too full of motion properly to fulfil the requirements of a portrait. He claims that in its overgreat animation it loses the dignity and poise and serenity necessary to keep a portrait from annoying and finally tiring the spectator. And indeed there seems almost enough action in the figure of this young girl to carry her right out of the picture. She is apparently walking forward with a briskness that sends her long curling hair and scarf flying out in streamers behind her. Her figure is in profile but she has turned her face till it is three-quarters full. It is a rather wide, short face, with large eyes far apart and a laughing mouth exposing her white teeth. One suspects that were it not for the witchery of Madame Le Brun’s brush, Madame Raymond would not seem quite the beautiful creature she does. The huge muff which has given its name to the picture she is holding up with both hands buried in its depths. Her dress is violet, her hat and waist blue, the fichu over her shoulders white. The big hat with its side caught up by a rosette, and the flying feather add to the coquetry of the picture. Madame Le Brun has used her brush here with a full, firm and yet soft stroke. There is a certain lack of freedom but there is a decided and most fetching ” go ” to the whole thing.
In this room as well as in Salle VIII. are a number of paintings by Prud’hon, the man who was scorned by David as being hardly better than Boucher and who to us of to-day represents the true classic spirit to an extent undreamed of by the founder of the pseudo-classic school of the end of the eighteenth century. It was not till he was well on in middle life however, that his public began to appreciate the gaiety and delicacy of his choice spirit. He really was the first painter since the Rococo days to feel at all the beauty of colour, and his pencil besides was as true, as firm, as sure as David’s own and had a life, a grace, an esprit that that cold, stiff copyist never began to acquire. Two influences show themselves strongest in Prud’hon’s life and work. Always he was greatly influenced by women, first by his mother, then by the woman he so unhappily married and finally by Mlle. Mayer, ” his best-loved ” pupil, who became the mother to his neglected children and the guide and inspiration of his life, to whose devotion and intelligence he owed really most of the late applause and appreciation of his work. In his art it was Leonardo to whom he was most indebted. He used to say that this wizard of the Renaissance was his adored, his master, his everything in one and he compared Raphael to him much to the Urbinate’s disadvantage. Prud’hon’s women have the mysterious, veiled smile, the dreamy, inscrutable eyes, the alluring not-to-be-tabulated womanly charm that, recalling as they do the great Italian have become so impregnated with the talent of Prud’hon that they are no longer Italian, but thoroughly French. There is a coquetry, a bewitching abandonment in all his pictures of women, and almost always too, there is a half-suggested melancholy, something indeed that has been felt by many critics in all of Prud’hon’s works, in spite of their gaiety, delight and witchery.
In the Portrait of Madame Jarre in Salle III., there are almost all these attributes though she is not the most distinguished of his feminine portraits. She is painted on an oval canvas, seated turning three-quarters to the right, but with her face in full view,. Her large dark eyes look out from under level brows, above which the full waved hair is parted in the middle. The mouth is exquisitely drawn, the curves not quite ending in a smile. She is dressed in a white empire gown, banded with gold, across her shoulders a red shawl and in her hair a wreath of daisies and wheat.
Justice and Vengeance Pursuing Crime, was ordered for the Palais de Justice and kept there till the time of the Restoration when it was sent to the Louvre. Prud’hon made a number of sketches for this and all of them differ from the completed work. It is said he finished this last in six months. It is universally regarded as one of the very great pictures of French art, and French critics have not hesitated to call it one of the chief gems of all art. Here is, at all events, the veritable sublimation of the classic. A humanizing yet idealizing process seems to envelop this whole picture, so that the subject, which might have been chosen by David or by Ingres, becomes, under Prud’hon’s magic brush a most powerfully dramatic tragedy that grips the consciousness of all time.
The scene takes place in a wild, rugged spot, with huge rocks piling high against the dark clouds through which the moon breaks pallidly. This cold clarity lights into broad masses the figures of the composition. On the ground, flung over backwards on to a rock, his arms far outstretched, as if they had been grasping to save the fall, is the nude body of a murdered youth, called generally Abel. His strongly foreshortened head, upper part of chest and part of the arms are in the shadow cast by the murderer who is just springing away from his fatal deed. Contrasting with this lowered tone, which, unfortunately has blackened with time, is the brilliant if cold light that throws the rest of the beautiful torso into strong relief. Cain, the perpetrator, has pulled his tunic about him, still clutching the bloody knife as if ready to plunge it once more. His terrible face, already distorted by fear as well as passion, turns toward his victim seeking absolute assurance of his death. This figure is as dreadful as the victim is beautiful. As unseen by the murderer as by the dead, are the two figures above who sweep with noiseless but irresistible swiftness from the right out of the celestial regions. Vengeance and Justice come together, their wings reaching far beyond their heads and shoulders, their garments streaming behind in the rapidity of their approach. Vengeance carries a flaming torch in her left hand while with the other she seems about to seize the shoulder of the man below. Her face is turned toward her companion, Justice, who is gazing with implacable eyes at the murderer. In her right hand she grasps a short sword and in her left are the scales of judgment. These figures are conceived and executed in the very spirit of the great Greeks, a spirit nevertheless infused with an individuality, a modernity, so to speak, that makes them real and convincing beyond the dreams of the school that paraded classicism as its one aim and object. Prud’hon did not often paint such gruesome subjects. He preferred the idyllic to the epic or the tragic. The gay, the frolicsome, the dainty, the elusive, the feminine, these were what mostly appealed to his imagination. But in this masterly composition he has achieved heights of sombre grandeur, of power, of virility, of stern nobility, while never losing the instinctive charm that pervades all his works. It is a lasting monument to the genius of the man who worked outside his own era, who was wholly uninfluenced by even the greatest of those of differing minds, quite as incapable of copying as he was of actually changing his point of view.
More near to Prud’hpn’s heart is the Transportation of Psyche by the Zephyrs to Cupid’s Realm. All his life he was enraptured with the story of the beautiful love of Cupid, and innumerable are the pictures and sketches he made of incidents of her life. This one in the Louvre is the best known and one of the most perfect of all his works.
Psyche, still asleep, with a smile on her lips over the pleasure of her dreaming, is being borne through the air by Zephyr and three genii. She is half-lying, half-sitting on their arms and shoulders, every curve of her beautiful body full of a subtle charm, modelled with a warmth, a nuance that only Correggio, it seems, could have excelled. Her head has fallen back on to her left shoulder, her left arm half-framing the tender, sleeping face. The utter relaxation of sleep is expressed in every part of the body. She rests wholly and inevitably upon her conveyers. Of these, Zephyr, who is mostly carrying her, is a slender long-limbed boy, with petal-like wings and an elfin profile. A genii’s head comes out from under Psyche’s knees, another is in the shadow behind the elbow he holds, the third is on the other side of the body, only her face showing above the flying violet veils. Clouds are beneath them, and still lower a daisy-studded field, and above at the left a glimpse of sky, rocks and vines. The management of the chiaroscuro in this picture is Correggioesque in its admirable balance of parts, its luminous lights, its effective, dramatic shadows, that never approach the theatric. Most of Psyche’s body is in the light, though both legs and face are in the half-shadow that forms so entrancing a part of the picture.
It is a fairylike dream, showing a spontaneity, fertility of imagination, perfection of technique, feeling for chiaroscuro that place it among the very best of Prud’hon’s works. The entire scheme of colouring, which is almost monochromatic in its varying tones of black to white, is relieved by the yellow drapery beneath the maiden, the violet clouds of soft veiling flying about her, the blue wings of Zephyr, and the restrained green of the fields beneath.
Looking at the paintings by Gerard in the Salle des Sept Cheminées, it is hard to understand how he could ever have been called the ” Painter of Kings and the King of Painters.” The first of these titles he earned by being court painter first to Napoleon and then to Louis XVIII., and by the number of princes, nobles and other great of the land who sat to him for their portraits. Though he was regarded as a very wonderful portrait-painter in his day, the second part of the eulogium was doubtless due not so much to his works as to his personal appearance. The Baron François-Pascal Simon Gerard had an appearance so superior, so marked, so distinguished, that nothing was felt to be impossible for such a personality. This estimate, however, was not fulfilled by his works. He was a pupil of David and counted himself a member of the strictly classic school. His classical and historical compositions nevertheless are very mediocre attainments and it is only as a portrait-painter that he can receive any decided praise. Even here the encomiums lavished upon him in his own time seem overdone, and among the three hundred likenesses that he left only those executed before 1800 are greatly commendable.
The Psyche Receiving the Kisses of Cupid was at the time of its production given immense praise, but in reality it is hard, dry, academic and lifeless, sur-charged with a sickly sentimentality and affectation. It shows the god of love bending over his sweetheart imprinting his first kiss on her brow.
In the Portrait of Isabey and His Daughter there is something more of the really estimable qualities of the painter. The two figures are standing in a hall at the right of the foot of a flight of stairs and at the right beyond them a passage is seen with a dog just entering the doorway leading into it. M. Isabey has a black velvet jacket and breeches of brown, the big boots tied on below the knees with long ribbon bows. In his left hand he holds his hat and gloves, in his right his tiny daughter’s hand. She is in a long white Empire gown and seems to have paused a moment in their walk, her father turning his face in the direction her eyes are looking, as if to ascertain the cause of the delay. This is in the main a creditable work, though for our day his brush seems to lack freedom and mobility.
Gros, the painter of Bonaparte in the Pest House at Jaffa which hangs in Room III., was, like Gerard, a pupil of David. But, though all his life he claimed to belong to that coldly classic school, he may be called with perfect truth an involuntary reactionist against it. He always felt that his great scenes of contemporary life were not up to the demands of the highest art. Even when he was painting his Napoleonic pictures and when the French public were at his feet, when he was chosen by the emperor for special decoration, when he was a member of the Institute, when he was made baron because of his artistic achievements, even then he appears never to have lost his self-distrust. And finally when David was in exile and Gros had his classes, the banished painter sent a reproachful cry to his old pupil. ” You owe us the Death of Themistocles,” cried he who could see no art possible in pictures of modern life. And so greatly did Gros, in spite of his fifty years feel the necessity for complying, that he set about some classical subjects at once. When, on their exhibition, they were sharply condemned, all the more because the romantic school was beginning to show its influence, the timid, self-distrustful Gros moaned that it was a bitter thing to have outlived one’s life. And forthwith, the man who had been a nation’s favourite, who had won nearly all the prizes life could give, drowned himself in the Seine.
The Jaffa picture is the first of the great scenes that made his fame. It displays the interior of a highly deco-rated mosque, surrounded by a vast court, which has been converted by the French into a hospital. In the middle of the improvised asylum Bonaparte stands, followed by his generals Berthier, Bessières, and Daure and the head physician Desgenette. Bonaparte is touching the cancer exposed on a sailor, who, half-naked stands before him. This royal touch is supposed to cure the terrible malady, and Gros has given Napoleon a benignity, a fatherliness and a nobility of expression only heightened by the youthfulness of the face. All about are terrible scenes of suffering, things it appears impossible to paint and keep within the bonds of legitimate art. One man is under the surgeon’s knife, another has died in the arms of an assistant. There seems nothing spared that would make the horror worse. And yet, strange to say, it neither repels nor affronts. Nothing could be more marked than the vital contrast between Napoleon and his staff, breathing a very exuberance of health and vigour, and the pallid, wasted and drawn faces and figures about. It is perhaps this very contrast that saves the artistic unities. There is at any rate no loathing, no disgust possible in looking at this masterly work. Truth, reality, dramatic effect, joined to vigorous action and most excellent colour are the things that must strike every one. In studying this it is easy to see how, in spite of himself, as it were, Gros forms the connecting link between the classic school and that of the succeeding romantic.
The Portrait of Napoleon at Arcole Gros painted through the intervention of Josephine, who persuaded Napoleon to sit to the painter for a very short time each day. It represents the general young, intense, full of fire and passion and absorption. He is placed in profile, his left arm crossing his chest, bearing a standard whose colours are flying forward in the wind. His head is turned looking over his left shoulder bringing it into three-quarters view. It is a most striking delineation.
The Raft of the Medusa hangs in Salle des Sept Cheminées and is the work by which Gericault is world-known. Gericault may be called the actual beginner of the romantic school, though he lived only in the period of the rule of classicism, dying before Delacroix really was acknowledged head of the new departure. He was a pupil of Guerin, the devoted admirer and pupil of David. So little impressed was this cold classicist with his pupil’s talents that he advised him to give up art entirely. It was a grave fault he considered that even in copying casts the young man could ” not help giving expression and dramatic action ” to everything he drew. Expression and dramatic action ! Could anything be worse from the point of view of a David? Besides his love for intense moments of life he had a great fondness for horses, and his studies and pictures of them are most excellent. Rosa Bonheur, years afterward, acknowledged her indebtedness to him. His first exhibited work was at the Salon of 1812, a portrait of M. Dieudonné as a chasseur charging. When David saw that spirited bit of realism he was as amazed as he was disgusted. ” Where does it come from? ” he asked indignantly. ” I do not know that touch.” To his mind there was altogether too much life in it for it to be art and he advised Gericault to abandon a field he had no chance of ever occupying. Nothing dismayed by his cold reception, in 1814 he was again represented by the scene from the retreat from Moscow. There were great power and original feeling in the snow-covered field where the grenadier was leading the worn-out horse of a wounded soldier. In 1817 he went for two years to Italy and during the time studied largely Michelangelo. In this he both gained and lost. Gained in dramatic intensity, in virility, in concentrated power. But unquestionably he lost in colour. Naturally of a sombre nature he instinctively chose the darker moments of life as the subjects for his brush, and from now on he began to express these tragedies in dark, monochromatic tones. He himself scorned his former ” rose tones.” Later, when he went to England, he saw that colour was after all an integral adjunct of art and it is probable if his short life had been prolonged he would have left even more wonderful works than now bear his name.
It was after his return from Italy that he exhibited his Raft of the Medusa, over which he had studied for three years. It was based on the wreck of the frigate Medusa, which on June 17, 1816, set out for St. Louis, Senegal, to carry the governor and many members of families of that colony. The raft that was constructed to hold one hundred and nineteen of the wrecked passengers was deserted by the boats which were to have towed it, and after twelve days of agony fifteen only survived and were at last, with their dead and dying, picked up by the Argos. The moment chosen by Gericault was when, in the dis-tance, a sail is seen far against the horizon.
The loosely put together raft fills almost the whole of the canvas. Beyond it and behind it huge waves pitch mountain-high against the sky, but the whole tone and colouring of this sea has been submerged in a sort of dirty brown colour that takes away from its reality as well as from its value as a dramatic adjunct. Mounted on a barrel on the forward part of the raft, an almost nude negro is waving a signal to the tiny speck that shows dimly against the lighter horizon. He is supported by a man standing below, grasping his legs. Leaning against the barrel, another also waves a cloth. A number by the sail still have enough life to raise themselves with some degree of vigour and one man stretches out his arm excitedly toward the distance while he is apparently encouraging his companions beside him. A few others in the centre drag themselves weakly to their knees, their failing strength making a last desperate attempt to revive. At their feet lie others, dead, or too unconscious to notice the new hope of their companions. A father sits in the stern in an anguish beyond words or sight to disperse, holding against him the lifeless body of his son. In front, caught by his legs, a figure is thrown backward into the sea, the upper part covered with a drapery. It was for this splendidly foreshortened figure that Delacroix posed. The general colour of the picture is dull, deeply sombre and without great depth of colour in that sombreness. It is only in its intensity of dramatic action, its grandly composed masses, its fine individual rendering of form, face and expression, in its appeal to the emotions, in a word, that it is so great. Gericault had so strong a sense of the limitations and requirements of art that frightful as the scene is, it is not repulsive. The approaching vessel has taken away from the stagnant despair and the ray of hope thus thrown upon the scene makes it possible to look at the picture without too great horror.
The painting was not well received and it found no purchaser. Gericault then took it with him to England where it created a great sensation, and brought him a good deal of money. On his return he painted the Epsom Races which was one of the things he had greatly enjoyed in England and which gave him a fine chance to depict his favourite animal in its most intense moment of life.
This Epsom Race is in the same room and shows four horses of as many shades of colour on a mad run, mounted by their jockeys, each one urging his animal to its utmost speed. The landscape is almost a blank, the sky heavily clouded. Clément calls its treatment dry, but Gericault has probably never excelled the horses in any of his many studies of them. The first two are almost neck and neck, the head of the third comes to the second’s haunches, and the fourth is only a neck behind. Motion, a very crisis of motion is the dominating thought. The straining necks, the excited, open mouths, the flying hoofs add to the intensity of a dramatic moment that, with none of the agony of the Medusa, holds one almost equally spellbound.
Paul Delaroche’s Young Martyr hangs in Salle II., and though it is largely its literary quality that has made it so popular, there is undoubtedly a poignancy to the pale, floating face in the green water, that partly atones for its evident theatricalness. She floats there with her hands folded softly, her sweet, pure face turned out toward her left shoulder. Above her face is the halo, which seems a bit of unnecessary unreality. The river is bearing her past the huge towering cliff, at the foot of which is seen the prow of a Roman boat tied to a post. Above, on a spur of the cliff two men gaze affrighted at the vision of the lovely girl. They and the rocks are in deep shadow massed against the moonlit sky. It is this silver gleam that strikes the slight body and throws it out into pallid relief.
Paul Delaroche was a pupil of Gros, and therefore was never deeply imbued with classicism, yet neither did he ever revolt from the school. All his life he was a straddler, trying to adopt the principles of both the romanticists and the classicists. He chose historical painting as his usual means of expression, putting himself in this way out of the preempted ground of either school. His chief idea was to show an agreeable, sparkling, highly seasoned, bituminous art of painting. And his scheme worked well during his whole life. He was popular, idolized, indeed, and overwhelmed with orders at the very time when Delacroix was scorned, reviled and ignored. ” Colour and spirit of events had no power over his imagination, he only apprehended them with a cool understanding and put them laboriously together.”
Salle II. has three pictures by Decamps, he who has been called the father of the French school of modern impressionism. He and Delacroix are also regarded as being the originators of the Oriental school of the nineteenth century. These two men and Horace Vernet began to exhibit Oriental scenes at about the same time. They all made trips to the East, but before Decamps had ever been there he had already shown an Oriental subject in his Turk in Cashmere Robe. Decamps early achieved great popularity. He had never had much instruction and his draughtsmanship was often decidedly defective, but somehow his work struck the public favourably and so long as he chose he kept this public his own. It is greatly to his honour that in his later years he voluntarily abandoned the field where he was so certain of success and began a rigid discipline that, had he lived would have made him far greater as painter than he ever had been. But in Fontainebleau, where he had retired to work and study, he was one day while riding thrown against a tree, and in August, 186o, he died.
He was considered a wonderful realist in his time, but he actually almost never absolutely reproduced any-thing he saw. He had a remarkable talent for giving the impression of what he had seen, and besides this he had a fine feeling for composition and for the ethics of picture-making, if one can so designate it. His skies, with their piling cloud, his trees with their bare arms, the movement of light and shadow, all these were kept in accordance with the movement of the figures in the scene. There is always a homogeneity, a wholeness about the most insignificant of his canvases. He felt the effect of sunlight very strongly, and in his golden-toned landscapes he made tremendous efforts to reproduce the atmospheric conditions he so adored. Unfortunately he never succeeded in capturing the real sunlight. His very attempts toward this were wrong. He intensified his shadows till they became huge cavernous blotches, thinking thus to show by their contrast the brilliance of the light. He did not see, what Marilhat had begun to notice, that the clearer and more intense the sunlight the more luminous the shadow. In this respect, as M. Mantz has pointed out, he belongs rather to the Dutch school, his works showing a strong similarity in method to De Hooch and to Rembrandt, the latter, of whom, indeed, he admired as the greatest master of all time.
The sketch for’ The Caravan in Room II., is a poem, a poem that remains almost as subtle, as vivid, as full of tonal effects in one of the rich carbon photographs as in the picture itself, which is a very good proof that even the blackening of Decamps’s forced shadows has not spoiled the poetic effect of his pictures or hidden his real value as a great painter. From the left, across the sands of the desert comes a file of camels, mounted or laden, going toward the little lake in the centre where already some are drinking. Not far away filling the centre and right of the middle distance a softly shaded mosque, showing the golden tones of the setting sun, cuts fine square lines against the suffused sky. The fore-ground is dark again, as are the camels, though here and there a rider or flank of one of the beasts is thrown into brilliance. The unfinished state of this sketch, with the rather indeterminate lines of the camels, on the whole add to its charm.
A Bulldog and a Scotch Terrier, in the same room, shows the English canine at the left, lying down with nose between his paws, his eyes widely watchful, his whole air if not pugilistic, at least such as would warn the trespasser to look out. Standing by his side in profile, is the Scotchman. A muzzle covers his longer nose, and a sort of harness is hitched on to his collar and goes around his body. Apparently wholly unconcerned and regardless, there is a sharp sidewise look in his eye that perhaps accounts for his muzzle. The two dogs are both wonders of expressive dogdom.
Even more truly than Decamps was Diaz one of the famous men of the so-called Barbizon school, this name, in its narrowest and earliest meaning, indicating a number of painters who had left the city and taken up their abode for part or all of the year in the forest of Fontainebleau. Diaz was one of the first of this band and it is his pictures of this grand old forest that have given him his greatest fame. His attempts at figure-painting were in the pseudo-classic style and like the No Entrance and Fairy with Pearls both of which are in Salle Henri II., are little more than weak imitations of Prud’hon. His later years were given entirely to the painting of landscape, or, more definitely ” treescapes,” and it is in these that he shows himself the poet who has something to say that no one else has said before. His was the gold-tipped brush that caressed with Midas-touch the path through the heart of the forest, the huge trunks of oak, and sycamore, the swaying slender birches, and filled these hidden forest glades with a shimmering golden haze that threw its tone over gipsies or dryads or Orientals or peasants, with impartial lustre. It is always summer in the depths of these forest glades, and the quivering dancing sunlight that turns the trunks almost to gold is a hot, pulsing light, full of the fiery southern breath that on the bare plain would be fairly intolerable. Piercing through the thick canopies of packed leaves and twisted branches, it loses its blasting heat and only warms, lights, glorifies. That seems to be its province in all of Diaz’s greatest pictures. The densest wood, the dimmest glen, the heaviest branches, the most gnarled and bent of tree-trunks, all are transformed, transmuted, with this golden aroma of dazzling sunlight.
These are the attributes of his greatest works, and one can see in his Birch-Tree Study in this room how he revelled over the great trunk, his ” stem picture ” as he used to call each new canvas, how he loved it, caressing it with his shimmering sunlight, studying it, brightening it. Over and over again he painted almost the same trees, the same glen, ever trying to approach nearer his poet’s vision.
In The Bohemians the idea is the same as in the one in the Boston Art Museum, but it is carried out differently. In the Boston picture the train of gipsies, in spite of their great number, is only, in a way, a part of the whole landscape and it is evident at once that the picture is not so much of them as of the glowing, sun-kissed forest. In the Louvre version, the gipsies are the principal thing. At the back the boughs of the forest frame a large bit of the sky. A tall gipsy maiden with a basket on her head, silhouettes against this open square. Ahead of her come the others of the band, down to the clearing in front. A woman and child sit at the left, another young girl stands beside her with outstretched arms, by her side a man helps a girl over the brook, and behind these come others down the woodland path. The golden light is sifted on to the group, the effect of the whole is molten, glowing.
With the Execution without Judgment by Regnault, which is in the same room, we come to the work of a man whose life might have extended into this twentieth century, but who, instead, gave that life to his country when it had but just begun. Regnault was the idolized of France, and even today more than thirty years after, Frenchmen speak of him with a living sorrow as if he had died but yesterday. He can be called the last great representative of the romantic school of which Delacroix was the founder. What he would have been, can only be surmised. But at twenty-seven he was already, to quote Miss Kingsley, ” original as a thinker, magnificent and daring as a draughtsman, superb as a colourist.” He took the Prix de Rome when only twenty-three and it was while still ” pensionnaire ” that, in spite of his immunity from obligation to serve, he hastened home from Morocco to join the artists’ battalion in the fatal war of 187o.
The Execution without Judgment has been called a symphony in red, and it is in reds that vary from the pale rose-reds of the Moor’s gown to the purplish red of the pool of blood under his victim. Standing on the marble steps of the Abencerrages of the Alhambra, is the immensely tall and muscular Moor, wiping with perfect nonchalance the blood from his yataghan. His half-closed eyes glance with a sort of lazy curiosity at his bloody work, and his whole body is held quietly at ease, no sign of tension or of disorder in his pose or ex-pression. Below him on the steps in a heap just as he has fallen, lies the headless trunk of his prey, and, a step lower, is the fearful head with its bulging eyes from which the terror still glares. Connecting head and body are the dripping pools of blood.
So realistically horrible is this picture that women have fainted on seeing it. The colour-scheme is rich, vivid, the composition masterly, the drawing superb. Whether such a subject belongs properly to the domain of art, or if belonging can by its subject take high rank, is a question perhaps, for individualistic answer. At least it is the sort of subject Regnault revelled in.
Though a wonderful portrait-painter, his forceful, puissant, tumultuous nature expressed itself with a perfect fever of abandonment in scenes of carnage, of riotous contortions, of sinister meaning, of all things out of the commonplace.
The Interment at Ornans by Courbet was given to the Louvre by the artist’s sister after his death. At the time of its first exhibition it raised a tremendous storm of opposition. It was claimed that it ridiculed a solemn occasion, that it was a sort of comic opera on themes best expressed by a dirge. Low, vulgar and disgusting were the epithets oftenest hurled at it. To-day this all seems strange enough. The funeral service of which this is a picture, impresses us as a very real transcript of every-day, country life, painted with a truth to ensemble and detail. With no rude irreverence or frivolity, it has also no mawkish sentimentality or forcing of solemnity. Actually the people represented were portraits of real people of Ornans, Courbet’s native town which he always loved to paint. And they are most excellent portraits as well.
In the very centre of the foreground the farther half of the open grave is shown. At the end kneels the grave-digger in his shirt sleeves, looking up at the priest who, with his assistants and acolytes stands a little at the left of the grave. Behind them four pall-bearers carry the draped bier. At the right are the friends and relatives, three men and a dog standing first and behind them a number of weeping peasant women. At the extreme right, the woman holding a child by the hand is Courbet’s mother.