IN point of numbers of artists represented the French section is best supplied. Examples of almost one hundred and fifty painters are shown, as a result of which not any national school of painting in the Museum may be studied as completely in every phase of its art expression. We have here the 17th century classics, the prominent 18th century men with the exception of Fragonard, some of the Academicians and of the Romanticists, all of the Barbizon group, and most of the men that come after. Greater names than of those we find here are missing; nevertheless, the various art currents are sufficiently represented, so that these may be followed, if only in the work of the lesser men.
The earliest French example in the Museum is the part of a polyptich which undoubtedly comes from the Avignonese school, which had its origin in the influx of Italian artists in the 14th century. With many Italian traits these three panels possess marked French peculiarities, the French saint St. Giles being one of the subjects. The other two panels represent ” The Expulsion of Devils from Heaven ” and The Mission of the Apostles.”
This Italian influence was farther north combined with Flemish tendencies to shape the early French painting of religious subjects, and also of portraits, the most famous artist of the 16th century being Francois Clouet. While the French artists of this period adopted all they could learn from the Italians, the Flemings, and the Hollanders, they still manifested some independent spirit in the intellectual manner in which they coordinated and constructed these materials. For one thing they seemed to have given preference to flat-painting, so that Wilkie observes that their pictures had the appearance of outlines filled up.
With the next century this intellectual evolution asserts itself more fully. The drift had been more towards Italian eclecticism, to which the men of Flanders also were succumbing. This is seen in the work of the three brothers Le Nain (early 17th century), of whom a school picture, ” Mendicants,” is in the Museum. Although this tendency is also strongly marked in the mythological paintings of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), this artist was the first in whom French genius asserted itself in painting. We observe with him an altered attitude towards the landscape setting, which is less emotionally symbolic and decorative, as it is with the Italians, and is revealing more realistic traits, even in classic severity and purity of style. This is only superficially shown in three school pictures of rather poor quality. These poor performances, savouring in some way of the flavour of a master’s spirit, but bearing plainly the earmarks of imitation, were once accredited to the higher talent but to call a goose a swan does not change the breed of the bird.
His brother-in-law, Gaspard Dughet, whom he adopted as his son, and hence known as Gaspard Poussin (1613-1675), was strongly influenced by Salvator Rosa, while at the same time endeavouring to follow the noble, classic style of Nicholas. But mannerisms and painting-tricks were the natural consequence of an intensely facile brush and fecund imagination, which detract materially from the artistic value of his work. The ” Landscape with Figures ” is a typical production.
Just as fully imbued with the Italian spirit was Jacques Blanchard (1600-1638), whose ” Venus and Adonis ” clearly shows to have been painted under Titian’s spell.
The man who did the most specific service to French art, and to all landscape art in fine, was Claude Gellee, called after the district in which he was born, Claude Lorrain (1600-1682). This is the more remarkable because Claude cannot be considered to have proclaimed his message in his mother-tongue. He used a foreign dialect, for his work is Italian, his composition, his subjects, his figures which are poor at that are painted in the style of the land where he lived from his early manhood. Classic ruins, seaports, pasture lands, herds and herdsmen, piping shepherds, dancing peasants, gods, saints, banditti, sportsmenhe painted these, and not impeccably. His landscapes are seldom, if ever, true to colour; his foliage is smeared and dragged ; there is little harmony in his expression; and the composition of his pictures is stilted, forced and overstudied.
But to all this there was added a new revelation. He was not ” the father of landscape art,” as he has been called, for Titian and other Venetian painters had before his day from time to time painted landscape pure and simple. Claude Lorrain’s greatness, his real merit lies in that he was the first not only in priority, but well-nigh preeminently to grapple seriously with the problem of sunlight and atmosphere. And in this his influence is still felt. He was able to define separate distances and unlimited space by the soft vapour in which he bathed his scene; to make leaves quiver, and fleecy clouds float across the sky by the circumambient air; to depict the brilliant and vivid working of sunlight. Only Turner, and he alone, has ever surpassed Claude Lorrain in defining the magic, transforming power of the sundisk. Yet even here the discerning may pause, for where Turner analyzes this sunlight, sacrifices everything to it, and catches its real radiance, Claude crowns the mysteries of his light with severity and repose, and considers the object illuminated quite as worthy of his skill as the light itself.
It cannot be difficult to trace in the ” Italian Seaport ” which the Museum owns a beautiful example, with its golden glow of sky the various characteristics that have been enumerated.
The next century brought that group of painters whose charm still lingers. They are the Minor Masters, men born of their time, and reflecting the spirit of their age. It was an artificial age of re-awakened paganism, of frivolous and trivial graces, of elegant amusement and vivacious desire, ushered in by the light-hearted, pleasure-loving regent, Philippe, Duke of Orleans a transition from the majesty of Louis XIV and the 17th century, to the gaiety and gloss, patches and rouge of the reign of Louis XV.
Watteau (1684-1721) was its embodiment. Do we not find in his life the fatal contrast, the mordant irony of the life of his period? All the festivals of pleasure which he painted, the lightest and latest fancies, a paradise of gay dresses and shepherd pastimes amid enchanted shades, the sunny stage with Gilles and Pierrot and Columbine, with Scapin and the Doctor, with Arlechino and Scaramuccia all those cunning catches and quirks of look and gesture which he touches with the happiest art and insight, all this spark of genius and poetic vision, to cover the dark mood, petulant sarcasm and unhappy spirit of a poor wanderer, always restless, impatient, dissatisfied, and dying just when youth was passed. Even as the enchanted world of the frivolous court, the glittering extravagance and entrancing fashions but lightly gilded and veiled the despair of poverty and starvation, the gross and sordid existence of the masses, which in the whirligig of time would hurl the great Revolution to scatter these Olympian divinities, and replace the half-overgrown, smiling Pan with the guillotine.
Only a few paintings of this period are owned by the Museum, but fortunately several have been loaned which give a partial survey of the 18th century French art. Watteau’s genre (only a Portrait by him is shown) and Fragonard’s matchless work are still lacking, and some of the other canvases here are but copies.
Still belonging to the colder atmosphere of the reign of Louis XIV were Rigaud and Largilliere, both superior to the portraitists that followed. They are more impressive, always dignified, Rigaud even possessing scope and style, while Largilliere had still breadth of execution, not yet lost in the confectionne manner of later artists. He has also a more unctuous colouring, a clear-cut brilliancy of modelling. The ” Portrait of Marie Marguerite Lambert de Thorigni,” by Nicholas de Largilliere (1656-1746), has vivacity, daintiness and wit, with some insight into character, later to be replaced by insipidity.
Jean Marc Nattier (1685-1766) already shows in his portrait of Princesse de Conde as Diana ” the ideal to which portraiture was reaching the ideal of the frivolous society that flocked to his studio to be made beautiful, whether they were or not. And so he gave innumerable charming visions of pretty, budding and blooming ladies with soft, caressing eyes, clad in sumptuous gowns or coquettish deshabilles. He was the most accomplished court-painter with all that this implies.
Entirely in Watteau’s style was the work of Pater (1696-1736). An excellent copy of his ” Comical March,” in the collection of Lord Pembroke, enables us to know how near he came to the sparkling manner, with less refinement of colour, of the greater master.
Francois Boucher (1704-1770) possessed the same sportive and abandoned freedom, with a vibration of atmosphere that blends the hues of his palette. His ” La Fontaine d’Amour,” ” Les Denicheurs d’ Oiseaux,” and ” La Toilette de Venus ” have all indefinable charm, veiled and subtle poetry, glances and smiles of gallantry, vague murmurs of a summer night’s dream, garlands of roses that become circlets of kisses.
Noel Nicolas Coypel (1692-1734) was a somewhat lesser light; yet his ” Venus with Sea-nymphs and Amours,” keeps us still dreaming in that chance spot that has no place on the world’s map, where is eternal indolence, where eyes grow drowsy, where love is the light, and visions fill the indefinite horizon.
Francois Drouais (1727-1775) was another popular and fashionable portrait painter of the 18th century. He showed great care in his accessories, and cannot be held blameless of flattery. A ” Portrait of the Emperor Joseph II of Austria,” the brother of Marie Antoinette, and a portrait of ” La Comtesse d’Hornoy de Fontaines ” especially the latter are characteristic of the art of his period, an art which loved sinuous, capricious, rich and unsymmetric forms, searched for tender, evanescent colours, and in all and everything avoided violent sensations. An art which, added to all qualities of competence, facility, grace, elegance, possessed one, and that cleverness, to a superlative degree.
With Greuze and Chardin (the latter not represented) we leave the fetes galantes, the rouge and beauty-spots, and return to nature if nature is meant to be life divested of its humours or heroics. For it was not a return to naturalism. Greuze’s prevailing fault was an artificiality as pronounced as in any of the frivolous and sensual allegories of Boucher. Only his artificiality concerned itself with the choice of his moral subjects, and with their wearying monotony. The cause of his temporary popularity was the reactionary trend of his ideas, overflowing with good and generous impulses and tender emotions; in his exaltation of the virtues, the strength and honour of the middle classes. He was the painter par excellence of young girls, always the same, and always charming, which he created with such personal cachet, that his name has even become attached to the type. Three such heads by Greuze (1725-1805) are in the Museum.
Only in the heads of children, of bewitching girls, and especially of that transient and ephemeral loveliness wherein the woman’s beauty is just beginning to work its wondrous transformation in the con-tours of the child, he was the unmatched master. He sinks to a lower rank when we consider his genre pictures, in which he shows himself a sentimental moralist not the moralizing of Hogarth, who lays on the lash with wholesome sternness ; rather the preachments of a snivelling stage, which protests to overmuch with the tongue in the cheek. Even in his best pictures of young girls he often allows this play to the gallery to vitiate his art. One of the best-known instances is his Broken Pitcher,” of the Louvre, in which, with a rare subtlety, with a suggestiveness the more unpleasant because so decently veiled, he insinuates the unripeness of sweet youth that has not in it the elements of resistance to temptation.
With Jacques Louis David the reaction was complete. The art of Louis XV had become flippant, careless, licentious ; moreover the rights of man were asserting themselves against the despotism of the few. Art reflected the spirit of time and people as it always does ; and classicism, the stern line, the heroic subject, the exalted spirit found expression. It is true that a composition of David is the perfection of convention, regulated by rule and by rote; that the academic system is fatal to spontaneity; and that it possesses an elaborateness and complexity which confuse; that it was a calculated and carefully poised art but it was a revolt against the sensuous art of painting. The century of that tender and great immortal, Watteau, had passed; the amiable frivolities of Boucher were for-gotten; the mock virtue of Greuze had become distasteful; the simple domesticity of Chardin did no longer suffice and a barren neo-classicism, academic, doctrinal, respectable, with its pseudo-heroic, patriotic philippics took the place.
A few examples of this period are in the Museum. Of Charles Vernet (1758-1836) we find here ” A Roman Triumph,” which embodies all the principles which David inculcated. It is a pageant of ancient Rome at the triumphal entry of a Caesar. His gold chariot is drawn by prancing white horses, surrounded by all his retinue of centurions, standard bearers and soldiers of his guard.
Charles Vernet’s son, Horace (1789-1863), in his ” Preparing for a Race,” exhibits, with his father’s classicism, the overpowering influence of romanticism, which was soon to put the school of David aside. Also affected by this romantic movement was Francois Granet (1775-1849), with his ” Benedictines in the Oratory.” But fully in the academic style was Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), Holland-born but residing in Paris from his youth. His ” Peter’s Repentance ” was painted as late as 1855, yet exhibits no departure from the austerity of academic tenets. At first painting small genre, he became later more ambitious, executing large figure pieces, in which he showed a strong leaning towards the pathetic and emotional vein. His taste was refined and elevated, his drawing correct, but he lacked the genius whereby David infused the fire of life into an art which in his followers is merely coldly rhetorical.
Pierre Prud’hon and Georges Michel are the links between the last days of classical supremacy and the rise of romanticism, of which they are the pre-cursors. Pud’hon (1758-1823) possessed deeper poetic insight, but his romantic inspiration is still constrained and regularized by classic principles of taste. His ” Assumption of the Virgin ” displays his grace and lambent colour a beautiful mother-of-pearl and opalescent tone underlying his exquisite violets and graver hues. His more suave and graceful line, the greater harmony and distinction of the mass, a wider spontaneity set him apart from the restrained and restricted methods, even of In gres and Flandrin.
The same we recognize in Georges Michel (1763-1843), whose lofty landscapes often reach dramatic grandeur. The ” Old Chateau ” has the magnificent sky with rolling clouds, which may be regarded as Michel’s signature the only one he ever used.
With the entrance of the 19th century came the era of noble discontent, the dawn of revolt. And revolt always stirs, awakens, calls forth action. In art it was the reaction against the too sculptural tendencies of the academicians, in whose hands art had become a thing of metes and bounds, and measurements and geometric theorems the anchylosis of artistic smugness.
Gericault and Delacroix led the fray. There is here no example of Gericault, but in ” L’Enlevement de Rebecca,” by Delacroix (1798-1863), a scene from Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, we find all the colour, dramatic action, strength of expression, bold subjectiveness of the new cult. Delacroix strode across the pallid face of contemporary art scattering a splendour of colouration such as had not been seen since the Renaissance. Well did he own : ” All that I know I took from Paolo Veronese.” He greatly admired Rubens, the warmth, the movement, the throw of his figures and the draperies, the freshness of tone, the life of the flesh, the magnificence and pomp; but Veronese taught him the luminosity of shadows, the vibration and modulation of his tones. In the ” Sultan of Morocco, with his Officers and Guard of Honour,” his prismatic colouration, his Saracenic splendour, his combined firmness and expressiveness of design, are palpable.
One of his pupils, Alexandre Bida (1812-1895), was an artist of the utmost distinction, whose fame rests chiefly on the fine drawings he made for the periodicals of his time. His ” Massacre of the Mamelukes is in the spirit of the romanticists but with a very decided turn towards realism.
While the colour of Alexandre Decamps (1803-1860) is less strenuous as with Delacroix, his oriental landscapes and figures gain in harmonious depth. His ” Bashi-Bazouk ” and ” The Night-patrol at Smyrna,” on the one hand, and his ” Italian Family ” on the other, are examples of two phases of his art.
Eugene Isabey (1804-1886) was less guarded or reserved, he has more brio than any of the romanticists. With a colour scheme, sometimes lurid in its intensity, he combines a patchy facture, a broad, slightly spotty brushwork, that adds strength and volume to the ensemble. Still even the small figures in his ” A Banquet Hall ” are indicated in such a masterful, summary manner that not one loses his freedom of pose or movement. The opulence of the decorations give further play to the artist’s marvellous texture painting.
Right at his elbow stands Adolphe Monticelli (1824-1886), as voluptuous in colour, but, alas, lacking a sane supervision over his phantasmagoria. ” Dames de Qualite ” and ” La Cour de la Princesse ” are two canvases, called and chosen, out of the many fanciful dreams which he produced in his dissolute, disordered life.
Thomas Couture (1815-1879), still a romanticist with a classic temperament, and not heeding the call of realism which was already being heard, had shown in one work, ” Les Romains de la Decadence,” in the Louvre, the height of inspiration he could reach. The study for a large canvas, never completed, ordered by the French Government, ” Volunteers of the French Revolution, 1789,” which is now in the Vanderbilt gallery, plainly shows that he would not have duplicated his only great success. Yet aside from this work on which his fame rests, he has done work that shows deeper feeling, if not more masterful invention. Take his ” Day Dreams,” in the Wolfe collection a performance which has gracious strength, firmness and sureness of execution, and a general, impressive beauty. The young lad, relaxing from study by blowing soap bubbles, sees in these the future he dreams of; it is inscribed on the paper reflected in the mirror before him : ” Immortalite de l’Art,” and in the laurel wreath hanging on the wall behind his head. It may have been a recollection of his own youth and its longings, which inspired this canvas.
While the colour of the romanticists never quite lost its influence on French art, and constantly re-appears in the men that follow, there appeared a group of painters during the thirties, who added thereto a poetic strain, which has made these Barbizon masters stand out supreme in 19th century French art; only rivalled a generation later by the Giverny school, totally differing in aim, but, nevertheless, as salient in its influence.
Landscape art was neglected by the romanticists ; what there was of it had a most conventional stamp, and was of a truly insipid kind. But in the salon of 1824 there appeared three pictures by the English artist John Constable, sent there by a French connoisseur. ” The Hay Wain,” now in the National Gallery, was one of these. These paintings, them-selves inspired by the great Dutch landscapists Ruisdael, Cuyp and Hobbema, were a revelation to French artists, and served to point them to nature as the source of true inspiration. Then the darkness of studios was left behind, and certain artists betook themselves to Barbizon, a village on the west-ern outskirts of the forest of Fontainebleau, where they essayed to interpret landscape, no longer in its linear, outward appearance, like a piece of scenery, but nature visualized through light and atmosphere. And added thereto was a certain subjectiveness, an expression of personal moods and individual feeling, from which arose their wide divergence in style from one another.
J. B. C. Corot (1796-1875) began painting under the influence of the classic school, and to the end of his life he was never anything but a classic romanticist. His classicism did not consist in that he introduced ancient architecture in his earlier, somewhat severe landscapes; or in that he peopled these with nymphs and dryads, as he often did in his middle period ; but it meant a refinement, a subtle interpenetration of sensuousness and severity. And this serene and cultivated effect makes his art, with all its fairy-like blitheness, a fortiori as classic as the Greek.
Those who visited the Centenaire Exposition of the World’s Fair of 1900 must have been amazed at the range of subjects which Corot has treated. Outside of France it is little known that he was not circumscribed to green and gray arboured pastorals, idyllic, full of freshness. Only occasionally a canvas is seen with those shifting shapes, silhouetted against the sunset glow ; and more rarely do we hear of his ” $t. Jerome,” his Flight into Egypt,” his ” Baptism of Christ,” with its nine life-size figures. Yet in these he showed his metier, albeit not with the zest, the enthusiasm he gave to his out-doors work. It must have been a good fairy that took him by the collar from behind the counter in the draper’s shop, and led him to listen to nature’s morning hymns, himself to give song like the sky-lark.
A ” Classical Landscape,” in the Vanderbilt gallery, shows him in his earlier manner, when he still sought rigour and breadth and deeper colour. Later note his ” Ville d’Avray ” and ” Road to Paris ” he simplified his manner and grasped the mysteries of light and air. Then the leaves of the trees are vibrating in the breeze, and the many-hued barks, the thrilling rays of early sunlight, produce the subdued harmonies which gave him name as ” the silvery.”
” The Sleep of Diana,” recently acquired, is one of his important canvases. This painting and its pendant ” Orphee Saluant la Lumiere ” – were painted as panel decorations for the palace of Prince Demidoff. It is a night scene; the full moon sends its beams through the leafage to play around the sleeping form, as the cherubs are watchfully hovering over her. Modulated with systematic unobtrusive simplicity and unwearied variety the silvery light filters through, and hides itself in every nook with imperceptible gradations. And what sublime spaciousness in the sky, flecked and dashed with trembling shafts in breaking, mingling, melting hues. It is a fantasia to the midnight hour by the sweet singer.
J. F. Millet (1814-1875) was the stronger man if strength be uncompromising and vigorous adherence to personal ideals, when these are furthest emancipated from and opposed to popularly accepted routine and formulary. The keynote of his art lies in his own expressions : ” To characterize the type,” and ” Nothing counts but what is fundamental.” And he did this in such largeness of style, such monumental conception, that, although his art has undoubtedly a literary side, this sentimental appeal is always subordinate to his pictorial potency. His superb feeling for colour alone would make him a painter rather than a story-teller, even though every one of his peasant subjects not alone represents, but proclaims loudly, all that is noblest and most pathetic in that peasant life with its deeper meanings and larger truths, its dignity of labour, its poetry of common things. If we halt, and point to the heaviness of his painting, how painful and laboured his workmanship, that he is occasionally crude, hard, and even dirty, and often uncertain these are shortcomings, not failures. There are no defects in his presentment of the grandeur of rustic life, and the beauty of creation; subjects which he denoted with instinctive and absorbing interest.
The Vanderbilt collection has no less than six oil paintings and two pastels of the master. The most famous of these is ” The Sower,” which was first exhibited in the Salon of 1850. It attracted considerable attention, diverse criticism, and the unbounded admiration of the younger artists. Theophile Gautier, the only critic who recognized its rare merit, thus spoke of it in his review of the Salon:
” The night is coming, spreading its gray wings over the earth ; the sower marches with rhythmic step, flinging the grain in the furrow. He is gaunt, cadaverous, thin, under his livery of poverty; yet it is life which his large hand sheds. He who has nothing scatters, with a superb gesture, the bread of the future broadcast over the earth. On the other side of the slope, a last ray of the sun shows a pair of oxen at the end of their furrow. This is the only light of the picture, which is bathed in shadow, and presents to the eye, under a clouded sky, nothing but newly ploughed earth. There is something great, of the grand style, in this figure, with its violent gesture, its proud ruggedness, which seems to be painted with the very earth that the sower is planting.”
All the other examples breathe the same nobility of thought, the same severity, the same restraint. To him the old maxim of Boileau may be applied : ” Nothing is beautiful but truth.”
Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) was, with Mil-let, closest identified with the forest of Fontainebleau Millet as interpreter of human life, Rousseau as interpreter of the woods. He was the most advanced of that group whose treatment of nature was both realistic and poetically idealistic. His was the personal gift to snatch from nature with a nervous and precise glance all of its instantaneous aspect, its brilliant harmonies, its sudden brightness, the quintessence of its hidden beauties. One quality is to be added to his endowment which was not possessed to such extent by any of the other brethren force. No one has rendered with more firmness, with a more vigorous penetration, the expression of force in nature. The intimate, the sweet, the comfort, the charm, the gentleness of landscape had no appeal for him the immovable, the hard, austere and severe in rustic life captivated and held him. The sturdy oak is his by predilection. Rocks and gnarled treetrunks, not the transitory weeds and undergrowth, arrest him ; and these he fixes upon canvas without any fickleness of emotion, but with the synthesis of power. Where he wills to express mobility, transitoriness, variety of emotion, he reveals it in his skies.
” The Edge of the Woods,” in the Wolfe collection, expresses these thoughts to the full. The puissance, the freshness of colour and elegance of line, as well as the impression of solitude make us think of Ruisdael. Other wood-interiors by Rousseau, in the Vanderbilt collection, have the amber tones and the heavier touch that recall the savoury technic of Cuyp. There are ten examples in the Museum that enable us to study this master.
Diaz and Dupre also came to Barbizon after having worked at the Sevres porcelain factory.
Dupre was stronger in his skies. Diaz could better read the book of trees.
In Narciso Diaz de la Pena (1809-1860) tingles the southern blood of fire and colour. Before he knew Fontainebleau he had loved Paris, and models, and gaudy frippery. But his artistry idealized his Bohemia; and his nudes in floral bowers, with cupids disporting and whispering tales of love, possess the richness of Correggio’s palette. There is a chromatic flight, a wonderful colour scheme, a warm tender tint in his small figure pieces. A half score of canvases in the Museum display the variety of his metier.
Jules Dupre (1811-1889) has the same decorative quality. The examples of his work show the fecundity of his colourful eye to draw from riverside or forestedge, from autumn-tints or summer-glow the harmonious and sympathetic hues that have such subtle and supreme significance.
The mastership of Constance Troyon (1810-1865), the bluff and bold painter of the herd, suggests that the longer one seeks to escape from the call within the surer the grasp when the natural bent has free course. His early pursuit of porcelain-painting, and later of landscapes, did not debar him from the eminence he reached as the dramatizer of the bovine race. His ” Holland Cattle ” and ” On the Road ” are characteristic examples.
C. F. Daubigny (1817-1878) was the youngest of the Barbizon men, but stands nearest to Corot, the oldest. Little of Delaroche’s training, though it gave him a sound technic, is found in his work. His attitude towards nature was one of affection for, rather than absorption in her. His is a style of subtle refinement, directed by an eye peculiarly receptive of the faintest harmonies and the most tender beauties of the scenes he portrays. The local colour of his ” Oise ” banks has the dominant quality of the soft springiness of the green sod, the reflecting, placid water, the freshness of the air, the scent of the earth, and the vibrating chords of light. There are three of his paintings in the Wolfe collection, and a beautiful ” Evening ” in the Vanderbilt gallery.
Charles Jacque (1813-1894), the last survivor of that coterie, was in early life a soldier, an en-graver on wood, and an etcher. By choice he became a painter of rustic life, with a predisposition for the humble farm-animals. His early experience as an engraver gave him a firm and precise hand, while his vigorous strokes make his composition bold and decisive. In a ” Landscape with Sheep ” we miss the usual green tone of his work, the picture being more gray in colour. Of the two interiors of sheepfolds, the one in the Wolfe collection is especially rich and golden.
Another tendency had meanwhile been developing. The study of nature was step by step divesting itself of its poetic subjectiveness, and becoming closer, more searching. Its presentation was aimed to be more objective; with less romantic illusion, it became more real. The realist’s devotion was to life and the world as they actually exist, not for what they suggest. Then also the spirit of modernity asserted itself in a certain sort of eclecticism, different attitudes were assumed ; nature was being analyzed, dissected, as it were, and certain phases taken for the more emphatic expression of the realistic spirit. This has been the essence of French art, and of the art expressions everywhere, during the latter half of the 19th century. How diverging the practice we need but place Meissonier alongside of Monet, both realists to the core, but from different view points, and eclectics more.
We will first consider the landscape painters although it must be remembered that in France it is generally assumed that to devote oneself exclusively to any one branch of painting is to betray limitations, and there are few painters who would not resent being called landscapists. Those who devote themselves to landscape have generally essayed with more or less success the painting of figures or genre.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was the most emphatic realist. His aim was to paint nature, not with photographic cleanliness, but with all its kinks and scars. Hence he has been called brutal in his treatment, and a materialist. This does not define his character with exactness. Rather it indicates that the critic has missed the elemental nerve force that was back of Courbet’s personality. He loved ” the firm basing of the earth,” saw nature unadorned, and gave the plainest possible view of its inherent aesthetic quality. His ” Coast scene,” and his landscape ” Effet de Neige,” illustrate magnificently the possibilities of his faculty, his broad and masterful generalization. He vivifies the various phenomena of nature, he dignifies its most superficial extraneities, his defiant realism lends distinction and significance to his ensemble.
Henri Harpignies (1819-1909) has done stronger work than is shown in his ” Moonrise ” but who-ever heard that a picture painted to order ” brings out the best there is in a painter? Still this has a note of tender sentiment ; but Harpignies has generally a more virile strain in his make-up.
A ” Bathing Scene ” by Eugene Boudin (1825-1898) has his earlier naturalistic treatment, which in his later work is much overshadowed by his deeper searching for a prismatic colour-solvent, which brings him close to the Luminarists.
Little need be said about Felix Ziem (1821-1908). He found his public early with his one subject, Venice, and by preference the Piazza of St. Mark. Here we find this favourite spot in a state of inundationwithout any undue shock to our expectation, for it is the same Ziem and the same Venice, forever and a day. Pelouse (1838-1891), and Pokitonow, a Pole, born about 1840, show real nature, in an attractive garment, duly furbished.
Cazin (1840-1900) was the greater man. His ” Early Morning ” attests that personal view he takes of nature, which he studies for its phenomena of light and air, and, as in this case, with an atmosphere drenched with dew. He has a true sense of style, and a thoroughly individual colourscheme, the range of which is not very extensive, but very sweet and tender ; not weak and insipid, however, but as positive as if it were more vivid.
Alphonse Legros has been called ” the greatest of the modern academic artists,” which he is not ; rather should he be called one of the true naturalists. But why hackle about terms? His ” Edge of the Woods ” is sober and dignified, indicating even in pigment, his unequalled dexterity with the needle and burin. Emile Renouf and Jan-Monchablon are landscape painters that please the fancy of a large public. Hence it is unnecessary to de-scribe their excellence if it were possible.
But the French school of the second half, of the 19th century is most numerous in its figure and genre painters. The French social instinct, and the aesthetic ideas the French are enamoured of, may account for this. Many of these genre painters are more schooled in traditional adequacy of expression, and in the rhetoric of technic, than personally inventive and individual. This makes most of their paintings seem monotonous, and of some, who essay to step out of the traces, eccentric. Still the inborn aesthetic and artistic quality of French art, which is always charming, even if superficial, distinguishes it from the expressions of English and German art of the same nature. The reason that French anecdotal painting is far and away ahead of the Dusseldorf and Royal Academy kind, is because the French construct with taste and selection; they aim at elegance and perfection of style. They are rarely perfunctory, and never common. They express intelligent ideas, rather than banal, formal conditions.
The earliest of the realistic genre painters was J. L. E. Meissonier (1815-1891). He can only be appreciated to the fullest extent in his small figures and interiors we find in the Museum, such as the brothers van de Velde in their studio, another artist of the time of Boucher at work at his easel, or those readers in their study. His militarism made him delight in picturing soldiers and generals but then the artist commences to beguile our credulity. Such soldiers and generals never existed save in the realm of the milliner’s bandbox; even dress parade could not produce the aggregation of punotilious neatness he would hoodwink us into accepting. When Meissonier, however, endeavours to soar into heroics, as in ” Friedland, 1807,” we are affronted with having our gullibility taken for granted. Surely no one would take a microscope to a battlefield the number of gaiter-buttons being the most appalling thing about the picture. ” Fried-land ” is an unreal aggregation of beautiful units. The insistence on detail, the exhaustive accuracy in non-essentials, take away the impression the ensemble is meant to produce. Even the monotonously expressed enthusiasm of the defiling cuirassiers only reminds one of a well-trained body of supers in a theatrical spectacle.
But Meissonier was truly great in his small panels, which have a legitimate and authentic affinity with some of the Dutch ” little masters.” In these he displays the same exquisitely delicate perfection of workmanship, the careful precision of painting, the exact delineation, the same marvellous digestion of concrete fact. It is singular that with all his love for the beauty and harmony of colour, for delicacy of touch, for the faithful rendering of costume, he almost completely excludes woman from his work. This void cannot well be explained ; whether it was fear at not being able to do justice to the subject, or the acceptance of the adage that ” good wine needs no brush,” we know not.
The better-known and more important artists will first fix our attention. Eugene Fromentin (1820-1876), an able art critic and writer, as well as painter, is wholly admirable in his Oriental scenes; his ” Arabs crossing a Ford ” and ” Arabs watering Horses ” give us a pictorial view of Africa in beautiful colours, and highly animated by cleverly disposed Algerian Moors. No one knew better than himself that his technic was not always what it should be, that his horses are not so perfectly drawn as those by Schreyer still he excels this more conventional and inferior painter by a greater fulness of rendering, which is more impressive in its quiet dignity than the more boisterous charges of the German artist.
Gerome (1824-1904), the romantic realist, is well represented by three or four oriental subjects, a ” Sword Dance ” and views of Cairo, and one of his historic genres which, while not as famous as his ” Eminence Grise,” is as skilfully and satisfactorily composed, with all the relative values of the rich colours admirably, even beautifully observed. This painting represents the ” Reception of the Prince of Conde by Louis XVI,” and was painted to order for Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt.
Gerome’s pupil, Charles Bargue (1840-1883), painted in the same style, as may be seen in ” A Bashi Bazouk,” in ” Footman Sleeping,” and in three examples in the Vanderbilt gallery, of which his ” Playing Chess on the Terrace” is his last and perhaps his best work.
Few modern painters have enjoyed greater popularity than W. A. Bouguereau (1825-1905). With Cabanel and Henner he attended Picot’s studio, the artistic descendant of Ingres. His works may be divided into three groups, the religious, the pretty treatment of the nude, and his conventional, cleanly dressed peasant children, whereof his ” Brother and Sister,” in the Wolfe collection, is an example. The religious pictures the ” Mater Afflictorum ” in the Luxembourg is the best of these are no less prettily sentimental, faultily faultless, vacuously peaceful, than his adorable goddesses and cupids and woodnymphs.
The artist was a firm believer in his own methods, which he followed from the first and never abandoned. The new tendencies which sprang up in the sixties never influenced him in the smallest degree. He resisted these tendencies as night-mares, and referring to one of the modern apostles he would frequently remark : ” Puvis de Chavannes m’empeche de dormir.” From the first to the last his brush was as smooth in colour as it was painfully accurate in modelling and drawing. To him the Dutch and Flemish were all wrong, and Whistler to his mind was the genius of the unfinished.
The technical part of Bouguereau’s art is not above reproach. With all his skill in draughtsmanship he still lacks the vigour of line which gives life; and the smoothness of his demarkation makes the human form, as he portrays it, flaccid and limp. Likewise his colour has often been over-rated. His admirers extol it greatly, yet it is nothing but the white, the carmine and the umber as the studio receipt for ” flesh ” gives it. None of the finer effects are ever known to him. His porcelain models look all alike soap, rouge and cold cream. In fact, it has been said that his effects suggest that before he painted his model she painted herself. He never catches the accidental gleams and shades of light shimmering through the interstices of green foliage upon his nymphs; and even the naked feet of his peasant women seem to be made rather for elegant boots than for rude sabots. Only in his children, which, if overclean, are always charming, he strikes a slightly deeper note of sincerity. In the Vanderbilt collection we find also a conventional ” Going to the Bath.”
Dagnan-Bouveret’s ” Madonna of the Rose” is analogous to Bouguereau’s Madonnas ” as pretty as a picture ” is a platitude that applies to them all.
Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889) must be named with Bouguereau in the same breath. Both possessed the same vast amount of technical expertness, which is the only claim they have for lasting fame although even therein they are not without shortcomings. Cabanel had, however, a slightly more ambitious spirit. While his Birth of Venus is identical with any work of the kind Bouguereau has painted in its philistine idea of beauty, his ” Shulamite ” aspires to a deeper, more serious note. It possesses greater quality of tone and richer harmony of colour. But that this ambitious spirit was limited in performance we may see in his ” Queen Vashti refuses to come at the Command of King Ahasuerus,” and in his ” Pia de Tolomei,” which are plainly beyond his ability to portray more elevated sentiments. The latter canvas illustrates a story, favoured of Italian artists and poets, of a noble lady unjustly accused of infidelity. It is as beautiful, smooth and polished as the lustre of enamel but does not grapple our emotions with spiritual ardour and upheaval.
Cabanel’s ” Portrait of Miss Catharine Lorillard Wolfe has an aristocratic allure, and faultless execution, but it scarcely can be called a penetrating study of individuality.
J. J. Henner (1829-1905) minded to go the same road, adding to the methods of his two confreres an individual elusiveness of outline, and as a distinctive mark the russet hair of his model. His best part is the richness of his colour, distinguished by the florid beauty of chromatic opposites. Sometimes we find, however, a deadly colouring in his women’s faces, making them look like opium or arsenic victims. He often repeated the same note, and evidently was the least inventive one of the trio. His “Bather ” and ” Mary Magdalene at the Tomb of our Saviour ” are characteristic examples.
Jules Breton (1827-1906), the rustic poet of Artois, was a purely literary painter. Like Millet he was called ” the painter of the French peasant ” even if so, he was an effeminate Millet. Nor had he the range of thought whereby the stern master of Barbizon in so many diverse ways presented the rustic life of strife and suffering, even showing the grandeur of work, misery and sorrow. Breton, on the other hand, specialized ; he greatly abused one, identical note that peasant woman of his, always appearing in his canvases, charming, melancholy, a little tanned, a little dressed-up, done to a turn with artistic probity, and also with mental lassitude. Nor are we quite satisfied whether in all France we might come across such a type as Breton’s. All this may easily be tested on his ” Rainbow,” and ” The Grand Pardon in Brittany.” The regularity of arrangement of the great crowd in the latter picture, its smoothly undulating sea of white headdresses which must belong to women of exactly the same size, does not convey any sense of reality. The ” Return from the Christening,” by Gustave Brion (1824-1877), the Alsatian, is a far more satisfactory treatment of grouping.
Leon Bonnat, again, seeks his subjects in the near East, when he lays his portrait work aside. And these he paints with vigour and point of realistic detail, as he accents with sculptural felicity his ” Fellah Woman and Child,” his ” Roman Girl at a Fountain ” and his ” Arab plucking a Thorn from his Foot.” Bonnat’s eminence in portraiture, moreover, is explicit, vide, the portraits of John Taylor Johnston and Heber R. Bishop. There is an uncompromising fidelity that blinks at nothing in these documents. They are almost defiantly real, with a physiognomical interpretation intimately connected with picturesque necessity.
Widely differing from him in technic is Raffaelli, whose masterful street scenes of Parisian life have nervous spirit, sprightly grouping and an outdoors feeling that makes the lungs extend. An excellent example of his work is here.
Leon L’Hermitte, the ideal realist, shows the progress of his art in his two examples in the Museum, ” The Vintage,” dated 1884, and his ” Christ among the Lowly,” of 1905. There is still some tightness about ” The Vintage,” although the colour is truly harmonious. In his later work we see full freedom of handling, more richness as well as tenderness in the colour scheme, and the ideal of religious painting. It is not the religious picture of convention, of which the gorgeous draperies, graceful saints and devout bishops always seem to suggest a respectable compromise with paganism; but something intimate, something far humbler: Christ, the comforter and friend, who visits the poor and the lowly, entering their daily lives, softening their hardships with his presence; the Christ of the New Testament, who goes from door to door, plainly, and innocent of mysticism and elaboration of subsequent theology. He is placed among modern surroundings; not those surroundings affected by change of fashion, but amid a modest group of French peasants, where old and young stand awed at his entry, but unafraid; and they welcome him with a trust that hardly admits of surprise. This unspoiled faith, this fine spirituality, L’Hermitte conveys.
Jules Bastien-LePage (1848-1885) deservedly ranks among the foremost in the modern movement of painting. Realistic in his technic, he added a psychological significance. He was not only seriously, even painfully preoccupied with the manner in which he expressed himself the matter concerned him even more. There is an intellectual side to his work, not so much conveyed with enthusiasm as with reflection. His ” Joan of Arc,” of the Museum, has that resigned, bewildered, semi-hypnotic, vaguely and yet intensely longing, spiritual expression, which is worth all the biographies that ever were written of the Maid of Orleans. By the side of this idealistic realism the ” Balloon,” by Julien Dupre, somewhat similar in colour scheme, and perhaps more popular with the masses, becomes vapid, dull, insipid.
Another thinker who mixes brains with his pigment is Albert Besnard, a powerful painter of life and light. A ” Nude Figure ” has been loaned to the Museum, which gives us an example of one of the most puissant forces of modern French painting. In decorative painting he is lyric and grandiose. His own description of one of his most striking symbolic paintings will illustrate this. It is ” The Renaissance of Life from Death,” in the amphitheatre of the Nouvelle Sorbonne. ” In the centre,” he says, ” is the dead body of a woman lying amid budding plants. A child is being nourished at one of her breasts, while from the other flows a stream of milk, which, winding through the valley, forms, as it were, a river of life. Round her mouth flutter butterflies, the insects which are the bearers of germs. The serpent, emblematic of the mystery of terrestrial generation, uncoils before the corpse. To the right the human pair, dominating nature, their future domain, descend toward the river, which, remounting on the left, sweeps along its debris of forests and men and empties its waters into the bowels of the earth into a fiery abyss, the veritable crucible from which shall emanate new life. Thus are symbolized the forces of nature : water, air, earth and fire, the elements of organic chemistry which, under the influence of the sun, have brought into existence the plant, the animal and man.”
Besnard is an admirable painter of women, his portraits and ideal heads possessing the very soul of femininity. They are filled with movement, surprise, gestures, glances seized on the wing. As a horse-painter he has no equal to-day; the freedom of drawing, the caress in the ruddy browns in the glossy coats of the ponies, the joyous smile of blooming nature it all denotes the man of abundant life and a protean amplitude of enthusiasm; his personality cries aloud with every stroke of his brush.
Besnard has been placed by Max Nordau, who fiercely attacks both, in contrast with his antitype Puvis de Chavannes, a much older man, who had gained a reputation before Besnard commenced to work. Nordau’s antithesis, not his antagonism, is correct where Besnard fires the pyrotechnics of his palette at us, Puvis de Chavannes cannot tolerate any vivid colour ; while Besnard’s colour sings loudly and shrilly, that of the grand-master of mural painting chants a solemn psalmody fitting for the temple.
Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) stands apart, in that he has established a new convention in mural decorative art, in composition and in colour. The easel picture in the Museum, ” Le Chant du Berger,” is a repetition of part of the decorative design ” Vision Antique,” at the Palais des Arts, at Lyons.
To say that the individual forms and colour scheme which de Chavannes used were an express imitation of the Primitifs, is untenable. His aesthetic facture is too modern, too typical, too personal. So personal, indeed, that we cannot conceive of his having any followers. With them his method would at once deteriorate to something timorous, vaporous, soulless. De Chavannes had an original conception of the law of decoration that the ornament should set off and embellish, but never disguise, the thing ornamented. This law he applied to the decoration of a wall, the flatness of which he strove to accentuate and not conceal. Hence his flat tones, the gradually increasing archaism of his figures, and the omission of details, the subduing of all forms, attitudes and gestures that might attract individual attention. He sacrificed each individual beauty to the beauty of the group, and each colour was chosen, only with an eye to the harmony of the whole. And although on the walls of the Salon that pallid scheme of colour made his canvas seem outre, thin and watery beside the violent trumpet blasts of the whole colourgamut of his confreres, that same canvas in its place on the wall of the Pantheon is the last word spoken in mural decoration, with its pale pastel-like grays and greens and violets.
Still there are about two score of genre painters shown here, whose work we have not yet considered. A hasty glance at some of these must suffice. The rapidity of our review will not cause us loss. The general characteristics of these men have a striking family resemblance. They disport themselves in Hellenic blitheness, and sign their own warrant to frenzied oblivion; or they twaddle to us in elegant phrases of no import. A few have something more serious to say, to which we will not turn a deaf ear. .
Charles Muller (1815-1892) charmingly illustrates The Honeymoon,” the ecstasy to which the title refers. The Empire costumes and the full-blown roses on their breasts are of course essential to demonstrate the sentiments of the newly-weds. Theodore Frere (1815-1888) was one of the first to put the glowing East on his canvas. We find here three examples of his brush. Ruskin was an enthusiastic admirer of his talent, and was the means of introducing him to the English market, where he became exceedingly popular. His brother Edouard (1819-1886) has a little panel delineating the ministering offices of a Sister of Charity. Hughes Merle (1823-1881) represents autumn by a female figure, well attitudinized, the “Falling Leaves,” showering her, furnish the title. ” Maternal Love ” is also well called.
B. E. Fichel (1826-1895) took Meissonier for his model. If imitation had any salt in it, which it has not, his ” Awaiting an Audience ” and ” A Violin Player might more strongly appeal to us. There is also a reminiscent note in Hector Le Roux’s (1829-1900) ” Roman Ladies at the Tomb of their Ancestors.” It is a fine antiquarian study, but scarcely affecting. Jules Worms paints Spanish genre by preference, of which two canvases here are of his average merit. Jules Lefebvre won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1861 with his ” Death of Priam “; after which he settled down, as most Grand Prix men, to innocuous common-place. His ” Girl of Capri ” is shown here. There is a Farm yard,” by Antoine Vollon (1833-1900), who is better known for his still-lives, which he exploits with great felicity in successful and striking imitation. Yet, neither he, nor Blaise Desgoffe descend to those trompes-l’oeil, or optical illusion paintings, where one perforce loses the pigment by the vivid obtrusion of the articles depicted. Desgoffe has been proclaimed by Hamelton as without a rival in portraying objets d’art. It is known that his dexterity in skilfully imitating on canvas costly works of art has procured him access to the treasures of the Louvre, a privilege granted to no other artist. Three canvases, one devoted to Louvre objects, attest his special gifts. They are marvels of dexterous representation. The crystal vase is transparent as its original, the ivory shows with the same rich sheen and delicate carving, the embroidery of the heavy table cover is shown with microscopic minuteness, yet with realistic force.
P. A. Cot (1837-1883) is the author of the widely known and popular painting called ” The Storm.” There is a curious conflict of title in connection with this picture, the reproductions of which are. known in Europe as representing Paul et Virginie,” from the love-idyl of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. It is a captivating scene. The lithesome, swarthy youth, the lovely maid in white diaphanous drapery, the play of light on the running figures, the threatening darkness forked by lightning all is presented full of grace and tender feeling.
Firmin Girard’s ” Rainy Day in Paris ” is a pleasing city view, over-neat for untidy weather. The military painters de Neuville, Detaille, Berne-Bellecour and Grolleron are characteristically shown. Their realism surmounts academic traditions ; the figures or incidents which they paint are fraught with life.
Tony Robert-Fleury is painting now more ambitiously than is seen in ” A Musical Cardinal,” in Meissonier’s style. This style was also followed by Vibert (1840-1902), whose ecclesiastics, generally in red, are well-known. Vibert again is imitated by Hermann-Leon, who with deplorable lack of reverence for the cloth adds often a little humorous spice to his anecdotes but it is small-beer that comes from his tap anyway, so no harm is done. Roybet, the two Leloirs (Louis and Maurice), Clairin, Jacquet, Boilvin are all represented. They are Parisian to the core, even when they choose outlander subjects. Some excel in sweep and breadth, others in brilliancy, or in ingenuousness they all have elegance and charm. Boutigny shows ” The Revolt at Pavia,” one of the inexhaustible Napoleonics.
William T. Dannat, an American-born, ‘but residing in Paris, is the author of a large canvas, ” A Quartette,” which is highly meritorious in colour, character-drawing, and spirit of presentation. The same may be said of A. P. Dawant’s ” Departure of Emigrants from Havre.” Walter Gay, also American by birth, proclaims his training with Bonnat in ” Les Fileuses.” Raymundo de Madrazo, born in Rome of Spanish extraction (his father being the Madrid painter Frederico), lives in Paris, makes frequent visits to New York, is a cosmopolitan by inclination, Parisian in spirit, and Spanish in verve and colour. His ” Girls at a Window,” with bright eyes and sparkling smiles, evidently in wait to ravish admirers by their nonchalance and charm, is painted with a sure touch and delicate handling.
Henri Lerolle’s ” The Organ Rehearsal,” with its life-size figures of sympathetic bearing, is worthy of the space it occupies. The simplicity of the arrangement, the wide space around the choir loft actually felt, and filled with light and air and human voice, together with the character-painting in the hearers, which must be portraits for their realism it all proclaims an artist of power and deep feeling. Benjamin-Constant’s enormous can-vas ” Justinian in Council ” was a clou at the Salon of 1888. There is a vast amount of paint in this canvas, to say which sounds banal and flat unfortunately it is about all that can be said. Were the canvas and its subject reduced in size it would show as artificial as now. The size does not even add to its impressiveness.
Among the few animal paintings not yet mentioned, the so-called ” Horse Fair,” but really a horse market, by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), is among the most popular paintings in the Museum. I must plead the privilege of a slight scepticism as to the efficiency of any adverse criticism on this painting by sapient critics to affect its continued popularity. Although the art student, the connoisseur, the experienced reviewer may shrug his shoulders, and point out numberless reasons why this painting does not satisfy the highest canons of art, the fact remains that the multitude will always regard it with delight and admiration. Hoi polloi does not know much about the lack of ” quality ” in Rosa Bonheur’s work, or about her inferiority as an interpreter of animal life to Troyon, Gericault or Barrye and what is more, does not care. To them there is here a scene full of animation, the rampant horses are ” just so,” the colour is pleasing to the uninitiated, the artist understood her business and knew what she was about, anybody could tell that, and nothing more is wanted. And Rosa Bonheur’s ” Horse Fair ” will be the first picture many visitors will look for, for a good long time to come. So it should always be kept nicely cleaned and varnished, a joy to beholders.
The large ” Woodland and Cattle,” by her brother Auguste Bonheur (1824-1884), is only less popular because less colourful; still the playful shimmer of sunlight through the leafage is very elusive and fascinating. The ” Lost Sheep ” of Auguste Schenck (1828-1901), half snowed under with their shepherd, have roused many pathetic sighs.
As we now turn from this array of modern French art through which we passed so hastily, somehow an old saying of the Duke d’Albe : ” One salmon is worth a thousand frogs ! ” flashes through our mind.
Let us turn to the ” Boy with a Sword,” by Manet.
Edouard Manet (1822-1883) was a revolutionary innovator, an initiator of a new way of looking at things. He conceived and propounded new problems, which, indeed, he did not himself quite solve, and have been carried farther than he ever sought for, but which owe their inception to him. He was the first to break completely with convention, and refused to paint what he saw in the way accepted by all, because it always had been done so. His aim was to paint things he saw in their exact, absolute, not their relative value of colour and light-effect.
It is interesting to trace Manet’s development. At first he attempted to depict the life of the people in the streets with a realism which made that other great realist, Zola, his life-long admirer. Groping along, he came under the influence of Hals and Velasquez, and in these years, 1860 to 1870, his best work was done. To this period belong his ” Boy with a Sword,” the ” Girl with a Parrot,” also a gift of Mr. Edwin Davis, the ” Dejeuner sur 1′Herbe,” now in the Louvre, as is ” Olympia,” that ugly subject, most magnificently painted.
After 1870 his great problem became the sun, the glow of daylight, the tremor of the air upon the earth, basking in light. The principle on which he worked was diametrically opposed to the accepted theories of chiaroscuro. Heretofore the theory of contrast had obtained : the stronger the light, the deeper the shadow. Manet was the first to contend that with increased light the shadow actually is raised in value by reflected light. Although the old theory may seem true, because the proportion of increase is greater in the light-values than in the dark-values, still it is but a theory founded on a logical syllogism, that it ought to be so the actual impression of observation speaks Manet true. Thus Manet exhibited in 1863 an ” Impression ” of a sunset, according to his formula; and when in 1871 Manet’s followers the Ecole des Batignolles, as they were called, Pissaro, Claude Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte held an exhibition of their works at Nadar’s Gallery, on the Boulevard des Capucins, with such titles as ” Impressions of my Pot on the Fire,” ” Impressions of a Cat Walking,” M. Claretie, the critic, called it the ” Salon of the Impressionists.” This title stuck, and although Luminists, or Luminarists have been suggested as more expressive, the older name is the more common in use. Not until the last year of his life did Manet see any recognition of his work, and only after his death did his followers find a perceptible increase in appreciation of their endeavours.
Manet’s figures have been called ” the most life-like in contemporary art.” None will gainsay this who looks at the ” Boy with a Sword.” The child is dressed in a dull black costume with broad white linen collar and blue stockings, against a warm gray background. He stands at full length in the centre of the picture, painted in life-size, gazing directly at the spectator, and grasping a big sword almost too heavy for him. The ” Girl with a Parrot,” while equally life-like is more aggressive, and decidedly away from conventionalism, in its colouring.
Claude Monet, his most famous follower, applied the new doctrine to its fullest extent in out-of-doors painting, and the plain air school was born. He comes nearer than any one in robbing its light from the sun and putting this light on his canvas. Not the sun itself, only its light, prismatized by globules of moisture rain, fog, mist or dew whereby a haystack presents a play of evershifting, iridescent hues like those on a pigeon’s breast ; or the arches of Waterloo Bridge become caverns lighted up according to the direction of the sun or the caprices of the atmosphere, catching gleams of gold, dyed in purple, taking the tint of glowing rose-colour, or turning dull and gray.
A half dozen of Claude Monet’s canvases have fortunately been loaned to the Museum, which has only lately acquired by purchase a most representative example of this Impressionist school, ” La Famille Charpentier,” by Renoir. The dyed-in-the-wool Philistine may prefer almost any of the vast array of modern conventional painting catholicity of mind will compel us to acknowledge that this group is immensely real; that it is vividly life-like; that its colouring despite its wide range, is as restful as the green of a bosket of trees.
While Manet’s doctrine may not be the gospel for all art, present and to come, the observance of its tenets and their modified adaptation is conspicuous in the work of painters who today are placed in the foremost order. The bald imitators, with their hatching and stippling of raw and rank colours, batten for a time on the acclaim of the Giverny school the fate of the Barbizon imitators will be theirs : piteous tolerance and ultimate oblivion. But the artists Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Renoir, Degas, Morisot will live for ever as the triumphant declaimers of the impressions made by objects seen under different light-effects.