THE movement in French art which, as already said, was almost contemporaneous with the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England, was, like the latter, a revolt against tradition indeed, against an almost identical tradition, though the French movement took a very different course from the English one, and has since reacted strongly on English art and on that of other countries.
We have seen that the English movement was not a simple one not homogeneous, if the reader do not object to a long word. Art can no more be simple than is our whole intellectual and emotional life, of which it is one of the chief modes of expression. There has been complexity in modern French painting, much the same as that of con-temporary English painting; for although there are always peculiarities clearly marking off the art of different nations, there are also many general resemblances. It is hardly too much to say that we can find the French equivalents of our Holman Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, Watts, Burne-Jones, and others ; yet not the mere equivalents, be it emphasised, but the French equivalents.
As many if not most of those who read these pages will necessarily be less familiar with French than with English painting, it may be well to discuss at greater length than was done with reference to English art, the work of the artists who led up to the new departure of the middle of the nineteenth century.
The observant English traveller in France can hardly fail to notice, before he has gone very far on his journey from one of the northern seaports, how much more symmetrical are the French country-houses than those in our own country. The door is exactly in the centre of the main front ; there is the same number of windows at each side of it; and then there are often two identical, turret-crowned projections, one at each end. We may trace this formal style to the Italian Renaissance ; we are familiar with it in our large Elizabethan mansions ; but it found in France a more congenial soil than in England. Do we not inevitably think of logic, lucidity, ordered beauty, in connexion with both French art and French literature, whereas in our art and literature expression tends to break down form? The contrast between the rules with which the classical French drama was hedged about, and the freedom of our Elizabethan drama, is too well known to require more than mention. In art we find this difference so early as in mediaeval architecture. French Gothic was more severely logical than English Gothic ; and its ornamental sculpture was held more in architectural restraint. And, to take the most obvious modern instance, compare the formal, calculated beauty of Paris with the haphazard picturesqueness of London.
The difference between the art of the two nations is rooted in differences in national character and tradition. The Latin tradition, which we have found M. de la Sizeranne desirous of upholding, affects more things than art. Roman imperialism has had more lasting results in France than in England. The basis for the rules of practical conduct in France is the civil law of Rome ; in our country it is the common law, the tradition of a people who and whose ancestors on the Continent never thoroughly took the impress of the Roman stamp, and who have always revealed a strong instinct for individual freedom. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we did indeed put ourselves under the Roman yoke in architecture, and in the latter part of the period there was a strong desire to do the same thing in painting just as we have had our classical literature also, our Dryden and our Pope and dull things have looked, and still look, very dull under our so often dull skies; but there has ever been a spirit of revolt, and we shall win our perfect freedom yet; not, it may be hoped, to abuse it; but at the same time not to sacrifice expression and individuality to conventional beauty.
We have already briefly considered the strength of the Latin tradition in French art, and have seen that Jacques Louis David revived classical art in France towards the end of the eighteenth century. He had begun his career as a follower of Watteau and Boucher, but he obtained the Prix de Rome, and, following the usual routine, went to Rome to study in the French Academy. He painted in the most severely classical manner such subjects as the Horatii taking the oath, Brutus looking at the bodies of his sons after the death-sentence had been executed upon them, and the rape of the Sabines. The Parisians of the Revolution linked these subjects, taken from the early history of Rome, with their own struggle for freedom ; it was, indeed, the painter’s intention that this should be so. A revolutionist himself, he sought to make not only his own art, but every phase of art, expressive of the great upheaval of his day. Even his portraiture had something of Roman severity, and his Madame Récamier wears a simple, classical dress, has her hair bound in a fillet, and reclines on a couch of classical de-sign, with a classical candelabrum by it. An art that while leaning upon the past, took for its subject the Romans breaking with their past, just suited the mood of a people that was breaking with its own past ; and the painter be-came a popular hero.
Regnault, Vincent, Guérin, Girodet, Gérard, followed more or less closely in the path marked out by David ; and learned draughtsmanship, formal composition, and colour inevitably dry and cold in such companionship, or, rather, in such service, became universal. Subjects, also, were almost invariably taken from ancient history and mythology, treated with little or no imagination. Only in portraiture was art at all in touch with life. Prudhon, who in Italy had been chiefly attracted by the northern painters, became the French Correggio. Baron Gros wavered between interest in contemporary events and the ancient history imposed upon him by his master David. Then Géricault took the plunge into modern life, but retained much of the classical manner. His military pictures and his Raft of the Medusa show him to be near the parting of the ways. Delacroix carried natural action and expression still further, and, more than this, based his art on colour more than on draughtsmanship. The parting of the ways was reached, and it is interesting to us to note that English art was not without influence in this change of direction of French art. Géricault had praised the colour and effect of English painting, and Delacroix admired so much the fresh and luminous colour of Constable’s pictures as actually to alter his own work after seeing them.
The painting of the Classical school was based on an imperfect understanding of Greek and Roman art. While the permanence of the material in which it was wrought has preserved to us a quite considerable amount of ancient sculpture, the perishableness of the material upon which paintings were executed has resulted in the destruction of all but a few examples, and those mostly fragmentary. Of Greek painting we know hardly anything, except through contemporary description, and what we may trust ourselves to learn from the vases. Of Graeco-Roman painting we have learned most of what we know from the remains at Pompeii ; and Pompeii was almost unexplored in David’s time. It was from the architecture and the sculpture of Rome that he derived his ideas of ancient art. Had he, as a young man, seen the Pompeian mosaic, representing the flight of Darius at the battle of Issus, and understood its significance, his art could not have become what it did. Could he have had the mosaic in his mind when, near the end of his life, he stood before Delacroix’s Dante’s Bark, he would have known that picture to be more in the spirit, and even according to the letter, of Roman painting than his own Horatii or Rape of the Sabines. Delacroix knew this : at least, as a protest against David’s cold, sculpturesque treatment of subjects taken from ancient history, he painted them himself with more realistic truth of action and expression, remembering that the people of classical days did once really live. The classical movement was in a great degree ignorant superstition one might almost call it grovelling superstition. We call to mind that in England it had not been without protest against his so doing Sir Benjamin West had given to the soldiery in his Death of General Wolfe their actual English uniforms, and not the military costume of the Romans. In architecture and sculpture, as well as in painting, what have we not had to suffer, what do we not still suffer, through our artists for-getting that if art is to be living it must chiefly live in the present ; and, if it deal with the past, must deal with it in a living way, must make it live again !
Delacroix did not easily carry the day against classicism. It found a fresh and vigorous recruit in Ingres, a pupil of David, who again put draughtsmanship before colour and movement. He was eighteen years older than Delacroix, but was a man of much stronger physique, and outlived the younger painter by four years. Born in 1780, he lived until 1867, thus reaching the long count of eighty-seven years. He was strenuously, bitterly opposed to Delacroix, whose election to the Institute drew from him the remark, ” Now the wolf is in the sheepfold.” Truly, it is hardly a less unpleasant thing to introduce new art than new theology ! While such a man ruled, art had little chance of becoming an interpreter of life and nature. The hold of the dead hand of Rome was only gradually weakened, though, more and more, art turned to modern themes for its subjects. Thus Paul Delaroche, who was almost the same age as Delacroix, is best known by such works as The Princes in the Tower, The Death of Queen Elizabeth, Strafford on the Way to Execution, Oliver Cromwell, and The Assassination of the Duke of Guise. It is true that these were little more than academic exercises, with the pathetic or tragic interest of subject that would make them popular; but there was life in them, if not the passionate life of the works of Delacroix ; and in one instance, at least the head of the dying Elizabeth Delaroche showed great dramatic power.
Thomas Couture, again, was at the parting of the ways. He could not wholly escape from classicism in his painting, though as a teacher he was in great request after the exhibition of his Orgie Romaine in 1847, and Manet was one of his pupils he strongly opposed himself to it. About the art of Gustave Courbet, however, there was no hesitation; it was, in its own time, nothing less than provocatively, defiantly realistic. When we see to-day, hung probably in the same gallery, paintings differing widely in method and intention, and which we quietly value, each for the worth it possesses, it requires an effort of the imagination to realise the storms that raged about them when first they were painted and exhibited. Courbet was born in 1819 at Ornans, near Besançon ; and though trained in the school of David, he early repudiated, both in work and speech, its methods and aims. He made no pause, either, at the half-way house of Delacroix ; but declared, and maintained the declaration in practice, that the painter’s proper work was to paint what he could see about him. Among the old masters his heroes were such men as Holbein, Ribera, Zurbaran, Velasquez, and Ostade, who had painted the things and the people they could see. Of Raphael he admired only the portraits; the great compositions of sacred and historical subjects were nothing to him. For the imitators of Raphael he had only contempt. To him the ideal was the empty. In life a republican and a socialist, he chose nature and the ordinary people of his own time as the themes of his art. Railway stations, mines, and manufactories, he said, were the miracles of the modern time ; and the great among living men were its saints. When this programme for art failed to find favour, and his pictures were refused at the international exhibition in Paris in 1855, he opened an independent exhibition of his own works in a wooden hut, and enforced their purpose with the aid of a pamphlet. The objections raised to his work were of the same kind as those our Pre-Raphaelite painters had to face. Eyes that had grown used to a vapid idealism could see only malicious caricature in the plain rendering of people as they actually were. Because he painted a funeral at his native village at Ornans with a real, commonplace parish priest officiating, and country-folk that would be recognisable as such in any garb, standing round the grave, he was accused of ridiculing a religious function. To-day we cannot read this into the picture any more than we can read into Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents what Dickens and his contemporaries saw in that picture. Courbet’s picture is an historical document. Such were the French peasantry of the middle of the nineteenth century. Courbet painted other village scenes at Ornans. His peasants returning from market may amuse the townsman, not because they are untrue to life, but because they are unsophisticated, are fearlessly living their own life, not one imposed upon them by the arbiters of fashion. His stone-breakers anticipate the sculpture of Meunier ; the picture is one that authority might well have suppressed, as work by the Belgian sculptor has been suppressed, because it might incite to socialism. His grisettes lying on the river-bank are typical Parisian shop-girls enjoying their dolce far niente, careless of appearances so long as they are physically comfortable ; his nude figures are creatures of flesh and blood. His deer in the forest are wild creatures amid wild surroundings. His picture The Wave shows that he has stood upon the shore and deeply felt the immensity of sea and sky. In all his work we see that a virile power has been handling actual things. He was wrong, of course, in so far as he maintained that nothing but this was included in the mission of art. But his theory was the outcome of a conviction that produced a remarkable life-work. More catholic in criticism, his work would have been of less value. He is the very antithesis of David; reaching him, we have passed from one extreme of theory and practice to another ; and, with reference to our present purpose, we have said now all that is needful about the subject painters who were the immediate predecessors of the French painters whose work we have more particularly to study. We have next to turn for a brief space to the landscape painters, with whom, conveniently, if not quite logically, we shall link Jean Français Millet.
We have seen landscape painting in classical bondage, yet, in modern painting, it has been one of the liberators of art. Face to face with nature, and with the labour by means of which men win their subsistence from nature, artificiality is at a discount ; and history is of little moment, for here are the great elemental facts of life that, in their main features, antedate history. This large, living work inevitably reacts upon that of the subject painters in the towns. And it may also be noted here that portraiture, which has not merely men and women but mankind for its subject, is often intensely alive, when there is little or no life in subject-pictures. How stale and unprofitable, to take but one example, Reynolds became when he attempted historical and sacred subjects ! Along with these two branches of art though this is rather a parenthesis may be placed the work of the caricaturist. Nobody expects from a Rowlandson, a Gavarni, a Daumier, a Charles Keene, or a Du Maurier, the grand style and pre-occupation with gods and goddesses, with saints and heroes long dead. What he is likelier to do is to bring dead gods and heroes down from their pedestals; and, with regard to contemporary life, he makes easier a frank and nobly realistic treatment of it, because, in order to make his own work tell, he must depict, even if in the way of exaggeration, the realities of life. But our immediate concern is with the landscape painters.
Probably those who are least willing that English artists should seek to learn something in the schools of France will not be unwilling to believe that French landscape painting in the second quarter of the nineteenth century owed much to Constable and his contemporaries in this country. Even if there were but slight evidence that this was the fact, one would be glad to believe it, not merely as ground for national pride, but as justification for a wise internationalism. The evidence, however, is not slight, but strong; and the fact is willingly admitted on the other side of the Channel, as, quite recently, to the present writer, by the distinguished French critic, M. Théodore Duret.
In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, French landscape painting, as represented by such men as Bidault and Watelet, was still in the bonds of classicism ; and though Georges Michel, in such paintings as Aux Environs de Montmartre, came nearer to English naturalism, a revelation was needed, either from inside or outside, before the art could be freed from the old dispensation. The revelation came from outside, from England, where if art had not been generally set free, yet some artists had freed themselves.
At the Salon of 1822, English water-colour painting was represented by Bonington, Copley Fielding, Robson, and John Varley; in 1824, Constable exhibited The Hay Wain and two other pictures ; and the water-colourists were again in evidence. For Constable, on this occasion, the old saying about the prophet and his honour held good ; he who had seen one of his pictures rejected by his fellow-members of the hanging committee at the Royal Academy in London received a gold medal in Paris ; and he continued to send his pictures there until 1827, in which year the first picture by Corot accepted at the Salon was hung between a Con-stable and a Bonington. A few years later a group of French landscape painters went to nature in a sense in which the English Pre-Raphaelites twenty years afterwards did not go to her. They went to live with her, to make her their all-absorbing subject, not merely to find a setting for figure-subjects. On the outskirts of the forest of Fontainebleau, in the village of Barbizon, Corot, Rousseau, Diaz, and others lived the simple life from spring until the winter came, painting amid the immemorial oaks and chestnuts and beeches of the forest, and each of them interpreting nature in his own way.
Of the Barbizon group Corot and Millet the latter did not join it until 1849 have exercised the deepest influence on the after course of art; but it will be well for us to glance at the work of several of its most important members ; for though it is with later generations of painters that we are chiefly concerned here, not merely the influence, but much of the work, of the Barbizon school, comes within our special period.
Were there no external evidence for the influence of Constable upon these painters, the internal evidence of some of the early work of Rousseau, in the Thomy-Thiery collection at the Louvre, would be sufficiently convincing; and all through his work, at any time of his career, it is difficult not to think of the vigorous naturalism of the Suffolk painter. Rousseau, like Constable, painted nature as he saw it ; not merely as he saw it with the physical sight, giving a mere objective record, but as he saw it; as his temperament, his thought about nature, necessitated his seeing it. But it was nature that he painted. He did not go out to find material for pictures. He went out to be in communion with nature ; and his pictures tell us what nature was to him. It is not of nature, whether as a great evolutionary epic, or in her lyrical moods, that we think, when looking at the works of the classical landscape painters. They present to us a wholly unreal world, not the real one, too rough and untidy for ladies and gentlemen to walk through on fine days without injury to tender feet and dainty costumes. Rousseau’s world is the forest and the plain, and if there be people about, they are simple toilers ; if there be buildings, they are cottages and farm-steads, so rude as to seem themselves almost a part of nature.
Rousseau, indeed, was more alone with nature than was Constable, whose Suffolk was a cultivated country. The work of man is oftener than not in evidence in Constable’s pictures. Their titles alone show it The Hay Wain, The Valley Farm, The Glebe Farm, The Cornfield, The Lock, The Vale of Dedham. Oftener, perhaps, than not in Rousseau’s pictures there is no sign of the presence of man, unless the cattle must be taken to imply that he is near ; and the cattle do not obtrude themselves as they do in the pictures of another of the group, Troyen. The forest of Fontainebleau and its surroundings were almost untamed nature ; and it is to ancient trees, forest-ponds, and the varying effects of morning, noon, and evening, that Rousseau’s titles chiefly draw our attention.
It was not the lyrical beauty of nature that appealed to Rousseau, but the living energy, the power, and the splendour. His forest-trees are battered veterans that have survived the early struggle for existence, and then, with stern endurance, have braved the lightning and the gale, not without grievous loss. And death lias befallen some, as in the end it must come to all. Such things as these were what Rousseau went out to see and to paint. In his portrait he looks as if he might himself taken part in the struggle. He did, indeed, have his own struggle, veritably for existence. From 1835 to 1848 his work was rejected at the Salon, and his condition was little above poverty.
Of more importance than Rousseau, or any other of his companions, in preparing the way for Impressionism, was Corot; and for this very reason we will glance at the other chief members of the Barbizon group before referring to him and his work.
Diaz, Dupre, and Harpignies were three other artistic denizens of the field and the forest; and while all of them painted face to face with nature, each of them interpreted her in accordance with his own temperament. Diaz, of Spanish origin, loved the beauty and brightness of the sunlight as it played among the trees ; Dupre loved the movement of nature, the alternations of light and gloom, the wind and the rain. The sky almost, if not wholly, rivals the landscape in his pictures. Ruskin complained that Constable was content with light when it was ” flickering, glistening, restless, and feeble.” In the works of Dupre, who not only came under Constable’s influence, but actually met him in this country, there is certainly more sense of the power of nature than in those of the English master. Harpignies delighted in breadth of irradiating light. Such brief comments as these cannot sum up an artist’s work, but they serve to hint at the varied ways in which this group of painters interpreted nature. With Troyon, another of the group, nature, though sympathetically rendered, be-came a secondary thing, the home of the cattle and sheep that clearly held the first place in his affection. All these men were born in the early years of the nineteenth century, and their outlook was determined before the century had half run its course.
Jean François Millet also belongs to their generation ; but in his art, not nature, nor, as with Troyon, its humbler denizens, but the men and women who work in the fields, and who tend the cattle and sheep, claim the first place. He was born in 1814, at Gruchy, on the coast of Normandy, where his father was a farmer. There, as boy and youth, he worked as a farm-hand ; but all the time he lost no chance of drawing, and his skill was so manifest, even to the simple folk about him, that at last, when he was twenty years old, there was obtained for him some teaching at Cherbourg, and three years later he became the pupil of Delaroche in Paris. But Millet was not at home in the great city, nor was it in him to paint pictures in either the classical or the romantic style. Art meant to him one thing : power to interpret the life of such people as those among whom he was born ; and, in 1848, he found his way to Barbizon, there, as the event showed, fully to accomplish the task that was rather determined for him by inward necessity than merely chosen. “Man goeth forth to his labour until the evening ” ; this was the subject of all Millet’s work. ” My critics,” he said, ” are men of learning and taste, but I cannot put myself in their skin ; and having seen nothing all my life but the fields, I try to say as best I can what I experienced when I worked in them.” How well he said it ! The life of the fields is not an easy one. For those who have its simplest work to do it is hard and it is monotonous. Millet painted it in all its stern simplicity. Under his hand it is seen as a great epic. I have already made a comparison between Millet’s country-man and contemporary Courbet, and the Belgian sculptor Meunier. What Meunier has done for the mine and foundry-workers of Belgium, Millet did before him for the peasantry of France–and, through them, for some at least among the peasantry of all times and countries hitherto. He had no need to idealise, but only to give the simple truth, in order to make his men and women heroic; for assuredly there is in the labour with which man wins his food from the soil a patient heroism that expresses itself in form and action. Ruskin found fault with Millet because he did not show the faces of his toilers. This seems like the objection of one who wished to object, for again and again we see the face, and always it tells the same story : of patient fulfilment of the daily task, made possible by human affection and as we know, and Millet’s Angelus suggests it the hope of heaven.
It has been said that Millet’s rendering of the life of the peasant was a pessimistic one. We need not discuss the point at length. Always and everywhere it has not been as he painted it. But it has been and it still is so ; and more than this, it has been and still is in :many a place some-thing far harder than it was even as he knew it.
His own lot was but little better than that of the peasantry around him. He could barely live and support his family, even in a life of the utmost simplicity, by the sale of pictures for which today the wealthiest compete The Winnower, The Sower, The Gleaners, The Wood Sawyers, The Angelus. There is little need to name or to describe his pictures now, some of which, by reproduction, have become familiar in many a household. The painter of them knew at one time what it was for neither himself nor his wife to taste food for a whole day, thankful if only their children did not want. Such a price as this paid for a return to nature and actual life makes the brief hardships of our Pre-Raphaelites seem by comparison little more than such inconveniences as are gaily borne by a picnic-party. But Millet lived long enough to meet with both recognition and material success.
We come now to Corot, for with those whom we may call the second generation of the Barbizon group we are not at the moment concerned.
Camille Corot was born in Paris in 1796, twenty years later than Constable ; and it is not uninteresting to note that, like Turner, he was the son of a hairdresser. His father, taking up his wife’s business, subsequently became Court modiste, and a man of means able to give his son an allowance of twelve hundred francs, when, after much parental opposition, it had been decided that he should become a painter. His early training was inevitably in the academic tradition of his time. Almost inevitably also, he went to Italy. This was in 1825, when he was twenty-eight years old : and he spent two and a half years in and about Rome and Naples, producing formally composed landscapes with ruins, of the approved pattern. He returned to Italy in 1835 and 1843 ; and it was not until after his return from the third visit that he found the landscape of his own country to be worth the devotion of his life. That is to say, he was nearly fifty years old before he fully realised that nature was beautiful apart from the glamour that history threw over particular scenes and places. Nothing is more instructive than to compare his work before 1850, or thereabouts, with his later work. His earlier landscapes, often little more than ” views ” of places, are hard and dry, and the sky is a mere background to the scene ; yet they are broad and simple in treatment, show much sensibility to the play of light, and, towards the end of his first period, the intimate character of the scene is not destroyed by over-much elaborately formal composition. The later work, by which he is best known, is widely different from this.
We have seen that the inspiration of the English Pre-Eaphaelite. painters was drawn from literature, and that when they went into the country to find appropriate scenes in which to place their Lorenzos, Ophelias, and other characters taken from history or poetry, they painted the landscape with hardly less than scientific exactness and elaboration of detail. In their biographies and reminiscences we read little or nothing of music, but much about history and legend. It was quite otherwise with Corot. Music was little if at all less dear to him than painting. He sang as he painted, he anticipated. Whistler in making comparisons between the two arts, was regularly to be seen at concerts, and himself played the violin. Tradition could not for ever blind him to the visible music of nature, and when at last he saw it, the rest of his life was passed in the translation of nature’s harmonies into art.
He inevitably selected that which was nearest akin to what was dominant in his own temperament. Not the rugged strength of nature, but her delicate, fleeting beauty; not the insistently obvious splendour of autumn, but the tranquil harmonies of spring and summer in brief, all that was lyrical in nature found a response in him.
He came to know well, or, better, to feel deeply how large a share the atmosphere had in the playing of this music. In it all things the fields, the flowers and the trees, and the streams that flowed and the lakes that lay tranquil amidst them, and the people who moved about or laboured there had their being. The sky came to be no longer to his sight and feeling a mere background, a vast overhanging firmament ; it was close at hand, around, amid, the nearest objects, and thence passed away into the illimitable distance. What need was there of a subject, or of unusual effects of nature, or of exceptionally beautiful places, to one to whom nature spake thus? As to the prophet of old, to him also God was present, not in the tempest, the fire or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice.
By what means did Corot express the emotions that nature awakened in him? It was the tranquil moods, the subtle harmonies of nature that moved him. Bright and varied colour clearly had no place here. Sober greens and silvery greys were colour enough for him, with a touch of red in a cap, usually to be felt rather than seen, giving value to the quieter colours by contrast. And he showed his sense of colour-music by subtly varying this red note as the greys and greens were warmer or cooler. Any one of us almost could say also, from our own enjoyment of the moods of nature, that he would not need to emphasise form ; on the contrary, he would, and did, reduce all forms to vagueness. We need not go close up to a Corot hoping by minute inspection to obtain more detailed information. By such inspection of the natural scene, by clear definition in painting, the mood would be lost. We say that Corot anticipated the Impressionists. It is a paradox, but it is true : he did so by being an Impressionist ; only the name had not then been coined, and those who became known by the name carried impressionism much further than he did. Lastly, and of utmost importance to his aim, he observed closely and subtly rendered the varying strength of light and shade at greater or less distances from the eye in technical phrase, he paid close attention to values. We might say that he composed in distances; into his pictures there enters the charm, the poetry, of the near and the far-away, with the myriad gradations between them. Absolutely, of course, this was no new thing ; what Corot did was to put these subtle variations in the first place, and to subordinate colour, form, and detail to them. So he played his visible music, and it was a music both beautiful and new.
We may even better appreciate its peculiar quality by further contrasting his aim with that which Holman Hunt and Millais were pursuing at the same time on this side of the Channel. They, as we found in the preceding chapter, by painting all the detail they could see as they looked at what lay before them bit by bit, made no allowance for the stereoscopic action of the human eyes. To them, as painters, sight meant scrutiny, intelligent scrutiny, recognition of the detailed character of objects. To Corot, as painter, sight was emotional rather than intelligent ; it was feeling rather than perception. He looked closely at nothing, and so obtained the effect of the whole ; and on reflection the reader will find that, consciously or unconsciously, though he may be neither artist nor critic, he obtains much pleasure, indoors and out of doors, in exactly the same way. Corot’s pictures are beautiful in themselves; they have also enabled us consciously, and therefore more fully, to enjoy the same beauty when we see it in nature.
Though Corot was born before the close of the eighteenth century, his awakening came so late that all of his work that most is the revelation of himself was done in the years which those of us who are not yet old count their own time. He was over seventy-eight years of age when he died in Paris on the 23rd of February, 1875. Millet, eighteen years younger than he, died a month earlier at Barbizon. The child of the city died in the city; the child of the country died in the country. Corot went to the country, and found there a beautiful idyl. Millet was native to the country, knew its life from the inside ; and to him that life was a great epic of labour. What each saw and felt was there to be seen and felt. Millet, indeed, was by no means blind to the idyllic beauty of nature, as we can see from many of his pictures The Rainbow, for example. Nor was Corot unheedful of that which most occupied Millet’s thought and feeling. But each emphasised what most strongly moved him ; and the two men were complementary to each other. From the one we get grace and subtle charm ; from the other elemental simplicity and strength. In point of craftsmanship, of skill and beauty in painters’ work, it must be said that Corot far excelled Millet, who, less thoroughly trained, used his tools and material with much less skill; and reached his end more laboriously, so that his work, in and for itself, is less pleasant to the eye.
Both of them, in the work by which they live and will live, belong to the latter half of the nineteenth century; and, as we shall see hereafter, each of them has greatly influenced the after course of art. Corot’s influence, indeed, we have almost immediately to begin to trace.
Even if we are in doubt whether Corot should be regarded as the first, or the only forerunner, of the Impressionists, we may surely at once put aside Mr. Holman Hunt’s assertion that Impressionism comes to us from Paris, and is tainted with the profligacy of Parisian life. If we decide that Corot was only a forerunner, still, as we proceed, we shall find that Impressionism originated with and therefore, in any adequate sense of the words, comes to us from men, several of whom had little or nothing to do with Paris, and whose work only with difficulty found acceptance there, and that in the course of its development it was influenced both by English landscape and by English art. Tracing it back, there is no break through the work of Corot right away to Constable, and as we follow its development we shall come, I think, to the conclusion that it was inevitable, and that it has been and is a valuable addition to the re-sources of art. This may be admitted even by those who cannot endorse the praise of its most enthusiastic admirers, of whom it is not necessary to be one in order to find in it something very different from what Mr. Holman Hunt and others chiefly see in it : incompetence endeavouring to cover itself under fine names and theories. The Impressionists saw, and eagerly endeavoured to reproduce, beautiful effects of light and atmosphere, which, up to their time, had been either wholly overlooked or quite inadequately interpreted.
A small oil-painting by Corot, in the Moreau collection at the Louvre, of ships in the harbour of La Rochelle, painted in 1851, carries the painting of atmosphere to the point at which those who are called Impressionists took it up. The ships, the harbour-towers, the quays, the lighthouse, the reflections in the water, are all painted with but little definition. Detail there is none, but atmosphere is all-pervading. If we turn from this painting to works by Jong-kind and Boudin, who belong to the next generation after that of Corot, and, like him, were Impressionists before the name was coined, we see at once that they came under his influence. In fact, at a first glance one could, without incurring much blame, attribute the picture to one of the younger painters. It is more like what we usually associate with them than what we usually associate with Corot.
Johann Barthold Jongkind was a Dutchman, born at Lathrop, near Rotterdam, in 1819 ; but most of his life was spent in France. Though he received a medal of the first class at the Salon of 1852, he never met with any monetary success, suffered great privation, and in 1891 died utterly neglected and a victim to alcoholic excess. It is the old story. Works he sold for a few francs now fetch thou-sands. Men’s eyes were blind then to the subtle effects of light he say and recorded ; and landscapes and harbour-scenes, of little interest except for such effects, had no attraction for the picture-buying public, or even for the critics. Louis Eugène Boudin, his close companion, was born at Honfleur in 1824, his father being a Havre pilot and his mother a stewardess on her husband’s boat. He himself began life as a cabin-boy; but he was a born artist, made many sketches while at sea ; and when his father settled down on shore and became a stationer at Havre, the boy found more opportunities of following his bent. He was fortunate enough to attract the attention of both Troyon and Millet, who were then painting for a bare livelihood; and Courbet also found him out, No dissuasion of friends who urged upon him the non-success of men of great ability availed to turn him from the purpose of devoting his life to painting. An allowance from the Havre Town Council enabled him to go to Paris, but before long, when the allowance was exhausted, he was struggling with poverty. As with Jongkind, so with him : pictures that he then sold for tens of francs to pay for the bare necessaries of living, now sell for thousands. In 1857, having returned to Havre, he could not raise sufficient money by a sale of his pictures to enable him to return to Paris. It was by such struggles as these that Impressionism became possible ; not by dissolute student-life in Paris.
Disappointed in his hope of returning to Paris, Boudin started an academy of painting at the country inn of St. Simeon between Honfleur and Villerville, overlooking the estuary of the Seine, and the place became a famous rendezvous for artists who broke with the old traditions. But neither here, nor later at Trouville, at Havre, and in Paris, could he meet with success. Such men as Courbet, Corot, and Alexandre Dumas might laud him as the master of the skies, but the public would not buy his pictures. In 1870, when the war broke out, he found refuge in Brussels. Even in 1888, one hundred of his pictures were sold by auction in Paris for £280, a sum no dealer would now accept for a single good example of his work. At last he was recognised. His Rade de Villefranche was purchased for the Luxembourg in 1896, and he was made a member of the Legion of Honour. Two years later he died. Not wild student-life in Paris, but hard privation, had told on his strength ; yet he passed threescore years and ten, and was at his easel at the last.
The open air was Boudin’s subject, as also it was Jongkind’s. Grey was the prevailing colour in his pictures, wrought in well-nigh an infinity of subtle variations, and relieved by many touches of warmer colour. His Le Port de Bordeaux at the Luxembourg, for example, is silvery grey in its general effect, but the funnels of steamers and the merchandise on the quay furnish notes of green and red and gold that give quality to the greys and vibration to the picture as a whole.
A comparison may be usefully made between Boudin and Constable. The latter painted in oil in the open air on canvases as large in size as those he intended to use for finished pictures. When he had realised the desired effect, he used to put these canvases aside, and begin on fresh ones in the studio. The incomplete pictures he called commencements. Any one who will compare the commencements with the finished pictures in such instances as The Glebe Farm, of which both versions are in the National Gallery, and The Hay Wain and The Valley Farm, of which the commencements are at South Kensington and the finished pictures in the National Gallery, will find that with elaboration of detail there has invariably gone loss of freshness and atmospheric vibration. Much of Constable’s best work is in his small sketches. One is reminded of Miller’s Eel Buchs at Goring, with the note on the back of the canvas : ” Left for some fool to finish and ruin,” or words to that effect. This is no new thing, of course. Every amateur knows how much better are his sketches than the compositions he works up from them. Even Claude’s Liber Veritatis will tell the same tale. Turner’s sketches have something that his elaborately finished drawings have lost. So in a recent exhibition of Boudin’s work at the Leicester Galleries, in London, where in two instances there were open-air studies and also studio versions of the same subjects, the latter had lost in atmospheric quality by just so much as they had gained in added detail.
When I said recently to M. Théodore Duret, one of the chief apologists of Impressionism, that I preferred the unfinished to the finished work of Constable, his comment was : ” Exactly ; but thirty years ago you would have been laughed at for saying so.” An English landscape painter, trained in the Pre-Raphaelite school, and for many years past safely in the haven of the Royal Academy, could not understand this preference when we stood together before The Glebe Farm ; and he disputed the suggestion that the less finished version was a preliminary study. Evidently he was not acquainted with Constable’s method of work. Elaboration of detail may increase the number of individual truths, but too often it diminishes truthfulness of effect. What the picture gains in parts it loses as a whole. Did not even Ruskin realise this when he said of ” the loose and blotted handling ” of David Cox, ” There is no other means by which his object could be attained; the looseness, coolness, and moisture of his herbage, the rustling crumpled freshness of his broad-leaved weeds, the play of pleasant light across his deep heathered moor or plashing sand, the melting of fragments of white mist into the dropping blue above; all this has not been fully recorded except by him, and what there is of accidental in his mode of reaching it, answers gracefully to the accidental part of nature herself “? The aims of the Impressionist school could hardly be more felicitously described. “The play of pleasant light” has been pre-eminently what they have sought to record.
Before proceeding to discuss severally the work of the painters who formed the Impressionist group, it is desirable to say something more, though, as yet, in general terms, about the point of view that united them, and also distinguished them from other artists who were their friends and allies, and also from those who were their irreconcilable opponents.
They carried still further the study of atmospheric effects that gave its charm to the later work of Corot. He limited himself to such of those effects as enabled him to interpret the pensive moods of nature that most appealed to him. The Impressionists made them an end in them-selves, subordinating all other considerations to them. Like the work of the Barbizon school, like part of the work of the English Pre-Raphaelites, theirs also was a return to nature. It had nothing in common, however, with the realism of Holman Hunt and Millais. When Monet and Pissarro were in London in 1870, they were attracted by the work of such painters as Constable, Turner, Old Crome, and G. F. Watts ; of the Pre-Raphaelites they say nothing. They were attracted, that is to say, by work which their own already resembled ; only they were already singling out for special emphasis, almost, indeed, for exclusive attention, certain aspects of nature as seen by the human eye, which the English painters they admired had not thus particularly distinguished, and which the Pre-Raphaelites almost ignored.
The central fact upon which they seized was that which Corot placed in the forefront of his art : that everything we see is swathed in atmosphere ; but they went further than Corot in observing how greatly the appearance of things varies with changing atmospheric conditions. It is through these changes that we get some of the most beautiful natural effects of light, colour, and tone. Nature, by means of them, plays the most varied visible music. The vibrations that beat upon the eye please or displease through the sense of sight, as those that beat upon the ear please or displease through the sense of hearing. What we see in nature is nearer to art than what we hear. Many a natural scene approximates closely to a picture. Natural sounds do not in the same way approximate to music. A musician does not go into the open air to listen for suggestions for music; but a painter does go into the open air to see suggestions for pictures. And by this I do not mean merely that he goes in order to paint the portraits of scenes and objects the recognition of which will give pleasure to those who see his picture. This, of course, is a part of art ; but the visible music referred to above is, as Corot discovered, independent of such interest ; indeed, it is independent of any particular beauty or grandeur of scene in the common acceptation of the words. There are exquisitely subtle variations of light, colour, and tone in the most ordinary scenes. This was the truth and the beauty that the Impressionists singled out and pursued with zeal born of feeling, against the immediate authority of which the scorn of those who did not see what they saw and feel what they felt was powerless. They had received a revelation, to which they could not but bear witness. And because they persisted in testifying to what they had seen, they, like Corot and Jongkind and Boudin, had to suffer the neglect, and even the contempt and derision, of those who could not see it.
Some who do not merely hurl hard words at Impression-ism maintain, none the less, that its contribution to the resources of art has been of little importance. Burne-Jones, for example, who seems to have been really distressed by its increasing influence, said of the Impressionist painters : ” They do make atmosphere, but they don’t make anything else : they don’t make beauty, they don’t make design, they don’t make idea, they don’t make anything else but atmosphere and I don’t think that’s enough I don’t think it’s very much.” Still it is something ; and even if it had to be admitted that Impressionism had done nothing more than quicken our feeling for the beauty with which the changes in the atmosphere clothe the world, we might say not merely that this is something, but that it is much, and be grateful to those who have done it for us. We must say also that it is not exactly good criticism to complain that artists who have set themselves to solve a particular problem have not at the same time paid equal attention to other sides of art. As well might we complain because the navvies who have dug railway cuttings and raised embankments have not also laid the lines.
The Impressionists have opened the eyes of many to a beauty, and therefore to a source of joy, to which they had previously been blind. The world had never been seen before just as they have seen it. And, even if they have neglected ideas, design, beauty, and much else that is of the first importance in art this will have to be discussed later on that which they have given to art is not incompatible with these other things; and, the pioneer work of its discovery being accomplished, it can be, it is being, perhaps, in a measure, it has always been, pursued along with these other ends of art.
One of the oldest of the group of painters who became definitely known as Impressionists was not merely influenced by Corot, but became his pupil. This was Camille Pissarro, who was born in 1830, at St. Thomas, in the Antilles, his parents being French Jews. At an early age he was sent to France to be educated. At the age of seventeen he returned to St. Thomas, having while at school received sufficient instruction in drawing to enable him to continue his own art education. His father intended for him a commercial career; he wished to become an artist. The usual contest between business and art ended in favour of the latter. In 1855 he returned to France, and, attracted by the work of Corot, he sought that painter’s advice and help. He had already accustomed himself to paint direct from nature, and Corot confirmed him in this practice indeed, they painted together. Corot, at this time, was passing from his earlier to his later style, and had not yet become famous. It was not because he had a great reputation, then, that Pissarro sought him, but because he was ahead on the way that Pissarro himself wished to go. Pissarro devoted himself to landscape painting strongly, in sober greens and greys. He had varying fortune at the Salon, but was oftener accepted than refused. In 1866 he became acquainted with Manet, and passed into the circle of the cafe Guerbois, which included Monet, and others who were to become known as Impressionist painters. His landscapes became steadily, almost rapidly, more conspicuous for truth of atmosphere and light.
Claude Oscar Monet, who has just been mentioned, was born in Paris in 1840, and, like Pissarro, was the son of a merchant, whose head-quarters were at Havre ; and at that great seaport the future painter spent his youth. He early showed a strong inclination towards art, and by the time he was fifteen years of age he had struck up -a friendship with Boudin, who had then settled in Havre. Again there was the usual struggle between business and art, and the young Monet showed the strength of his determination by re-fusing the offer of his parents to purchase his exemption from military service on condition that he would renounce art as a profession. Service in Algeria injured his health, whereupon his parents bought him out, and consented to his becoming a painter ; and, in order that he might go through a regular training, they sent him to Paris to become the pupil of Gleyre.
This was in 1862. A year of academic study was more than enough for him, and the following year saw him leave the studio of Gleyre and come under the influence of Manet, an exhibition of whose works he then saw. Painting that, in tone, and colour, and light and shade, was closer to nature, appealed to him more strongly than the traditional methods of the schools. After painting, for a time, figure-subjects and figures in landscape, he devoted himself wholly to pure landscape. M. Duret notes that even in his figure-subjects it was the costume, rather than the face, upon which he spent his force ; so that the transition to landscape was an easy one.
His pictures have always been painted entirely in the open air, face to face with the subject ; and of any scene he has given, not a literal rendering of the permanent facts of it, but the effect of light and colour under which he saw it when he set himself to paint it. As soon as the transitory effect had passed he ceased to paint, beginning again only when the necessary atmospheric conditions repeated them-selves. Landscape, to him, has meant not picturesque objects, but beautiful effects of light and colour; and he has realised the permanent facts only so far as was necessary to a record of the fleeting charm. ” Under these conditions,” says M. Duret, ” Monet became able to fix on the canvas those fleeting appearances which had escaped the older landscape painters working in the studio. He pursued so closely the varied effects and changes that take place in the open air that he could communicate the sensations that they evoked. His sunshine warms ; his snow makes us shiver.”
For several years he lived at Argenteuil, on the Seine, painting the river-scenery there and the shrubberies and the flowers in his garden. The siege of Paris by the Germans drove him to Holland, and from Holland he passed to England. Here, with Pissarro for companion, he studied the English masters Turner, Constable, Old Crome, and others and painted in the London parks and suburbs and on the Thames. Thus, a second time, French landscape painting, through two of its most original exponents, came under English influence. Just before writing these lines I received from M. Durand-Ruel, who was among the first supporters of the Impressionists, a copy of an article in Le Gaulois, the writer of which says: “Deriving from Claude Lorrain, the great master of landscape, Impression-ism has learned the great lesson of truth that was so brilliantly taught by the masters of 1830, and, benefiting by the researches of a Turner, a Constable, a Bonington, it has completed the earnest and noble work of the landscape painters of 1830 by fixing on the canvas the subtle and radiant splendours of the atmosphere.” Impressionism, clearly, is not an outcome of Parisian studio-life.
Not only the English landscape painters, but also English landscape itself, had its influence on these temporary exiles from sunny France. They found even the smoky haze and fog of London a pictorial asset. The article from which I have just quoted praises Monet’s rendering of the transparent beauties of the Thames mists. The damp of our island climate, the varied colour of the London buildings and their variety and irregularity, and the frequent fitfulness of the sunshine, provide the artist with a wealth of subject compared with which the cold, formal beauty of Paris, in its clearer atmosphere, is poverty itself. So the French painters returned to their own country with more sensitive vision than they had previously enjoyed.
Like Pissarro, Monet had a chequered experience at the Salon. He first exhibited there in 1865. Manet, who saw the two marine subjects that were his contribution, suggested that the similarity of name enabled Monet to profit by his reputation. Then came alternations of acceptance and rejection, followed, as his individuality of style developed, by certainty of rejection. After 1880 he did not again send to the Salon. In France as in England everywhere, indeed art, like religion, has its Protestants, its Nonconformists, and, but for them, would perhaps not wholly die, but at the best would linger on, like one who in his dotage repeats ever the same things in the same monotonous way. And as the Nonconformists of religion have built for them-selves places where they could worship as seemed to them best, so the Nonconformists of art refused admission to the exhibitions controlled by those who obey the academic law, have held their own exhibitions, and, after experiencing, for longer or shorter periods, derision or contemptuous neglect, have won recognition for whatever was vital and of en-during worth in their art. This was the course adopted by Monet and his fellow-Impressionists. They held separate exhibitions in 1874, 1876, 1877, and 1879 ; and eight exhibitions in all were held between 1874 and 1886.
It was as one consequence of the exhibition of 1874, held at the galleries of M. Nadar, in the Boulevard des Capucines, that the term Impressionism came into use. The thirty exhibitors called themselves La Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs. This was too long and too tame for one of their critics, who coined a more pithy title with the help of a picture exhibited by Monet. This was a view in a harbour, with lightly indicated boats becoming visible through a transparent haze through which gleamed the red hued sun. To this picture Monet gave the title : Impression, soleil levant. Thus unwittingly led by one of the exhibitors, visitors to the exhibition came to use the term Impressioniste, and within a few days a contemptuously unfavourable notice of the exhibition appeared in Le Charivari under the heading, Exposition des Impressionistes. It was not until after the lapse of several years that the name came into general use. The painters to whom it was applied disowned it at first because it was used only in a depreciatory sense. Eventually, however, unable themselves to find a better one, they adopted it.
By common consent Monet stands at the head of the Impressionist group. He is purely a landscape painter, and it has been therefore easier for him than for those who were also figure painters to devote himself exclusively to the interpretation of effects of light. I say interpretation, not record, because the work of the Impressionists has never been merely realistic, as was the Pre-Raphaelitism of Holman Hunt and Millais. Not only have they sought to register, not the mere fact, but the impression made by the fact ; they have also stated the impression itself in terms of art. Their works are not lacking in design ; neither form nor colour has been accepted just as nature, which by no means provides us with ready-made works of art, has set before the painter. The art may set aside the old conventions ; but it is there, none the less.
We have seen Monet taking refuge first in Holland and then in England during the German invasion of France, and returning to his own country strengthened in his artistic faith. Though a native of Paris he did not settle down there, but lived in the country, first at one place and then at another, in the valley of the Seine. From Argenteuil he passed to Vetheuil; and then, in 1886, he took up what proved to be a permanent abode at Giverny, near Vernon, in the meadows where the poplar-lined Epte is near to mingling its waters with those of the Seine. It is the kind of country that the traveller, with lakes and mountains in mind, calls tame; to Monet, with his subtle feeling for light and colour, it is full of beauty. When the poplars in the Seine valley were being cut down by thousands to make palisading for a Paris exhibition, Monet bought those near his own house to save them from threatened destruction. His chief recreation has been gardening, and his own garden has provided the subject of many a picture. His art is based on an intimate knowledge and love of nature. When he has left the Seine valley, it has been, in addition to the visits to Holland and England, to find change of scene and of mood of nature on the northern shores of France, on the Mediterranean coast, and in Norway.
Of the greatest significance for understanding the relation of the art of Monet to the nature with which he has lived in constant intercourse, are several series of paintings executed during his later years. For each series he had only one subject. Thus he painted twenty pictures of two haystacks in a neighbour’s field, each from the same point of view. A second series had the façade of Rouen Cathedral for subject; a third, seven of his Giverny poplars; other subjects have been a morning on the Seine, water-lilies, views on the Thames, and effects on the water of his garden-pond. In all these series in fact, in all his pictures the permanent objects were not the only, in fact not the main subject ; they were rather its base or framework only. They may be compared to the fountain upon which are artificially thrown various combinations of coloured light. Monet’s real subject in all these series was the varying effects, on the sanie objects, of the light and colour of nature. The haystack series showed seasonal as well as hourly changes ; the poplars were studied through the changes of a day, from dawn till dusk. In each case the form was only sufficiently realised to support the light and colour, and was more than ever subordinated in the later series. Movement, vibration, shimmer, sparkle, gleam, glow such fleeting things were Monet’s true subject. With hard insistence on truth of form he could not have realised them. Nor to this end was formal composition essential, the composition that is indispensable when the painter does not make us forget the plane of canvas or paper upon which his picture is painted. How little of such composition there was in much of the best work of David Cox, whose central aim was closely akin to that of the Impressionists. We entirely forget the canvas in Monet’s pictures. I shall have more to say about this shortly.
With the traditional composition went also the traditional chiaroscuro : so much light to so much shade ; and the principal lights in such and such conventional positions. Away, also, went conventional colour and artificial half-tones. Monet’s palette is, in brightness, as near as he can make it, the palette of nature, though he does not use it merely to imitate the actual, non-pictorial happening of colour in nature.
Let us now look more closely into Monet’s impressionist methods. If the reader who is ignorant of the methods of modern process-reproduction will examine with a magnifying glass the illustrations in this book, he will find, probably not a little to his surprise, that they are impressionist pictures. When an ordinary photograph is magnified more detail can be seen in it than can be seen with the naked eye. A magnified process-reproduction becomes meaningless ; it is composed of mechanically placed black or coloured dots, which to ordinary sight become buildings, people, trees, clouds, or what else is to be represented, but to the aided sight are merely dots. An impressionist picture consists of dabs of paint which, at a given distance, look like buildings, people, etc., but when seen quite close look only like what they are dabs of paint. The realistic Pre-Raphaelite painter’s brush-strokes follow the actual forms of various objects as closely as possible. The nearer we go to the picture the more detail we can see. When we go close up to an impressionist picture the brush-strokes are so unlike the object they serve quite well to represent when seen from a distance that it is quite easy to feel provoked, as if we had been made the victims of a trick. I never closely examine an impressionist picture without this feeling arising, along with admiration of the knowledge and skill implied in these meaningless marks becoming so full of meaning when seen from farther away. There are, of course, plenty of precedents for such a method outside the Impressionist school. Velasquez used it. ” We are told,” says Redgrave, ” that Gainsborough got far from his canvas while painting his portraits, and that he used brushes with very long handles. There is no doubt that he so placed the canvas and the sitter that, by retiring, he could view both at an equal distance, and then, by means of the long-handled tools, he was enabled to give the general truth of tint and form without descending into minute details.” Let these two precedents suffice by way of illustration. Monet only bettered the instruction of some of his most distinguished predecessors.
But why not give more detail and definition? Because, as we have already seen, in discussing the work of Constable and Boudin, the general effect cannot so well be obtained along with them. When we get the general effect of anything that is actually before us, particularly of objects at different distances, we do not, as has already been observed, see form clearly, but confusedly, owing to the stereoscopic character of our eyesight. This would be so even if all objects were perfectly motionless; but this they rarely if ever are. Oftener than not most of the things we see are in motion; and even if they are not, there is usually play of light and shade upon them. Oftener than not, also, we ourselves are moving, and then, relatively to us, everything we see is in motion, and therefore not seen distinctly. Even if we are standing still we glance from point to point, and this is sufficient to make fixed objects have some appearance of movement. I was standing recently with a painter in a busy London street. We were discussing the Impressionist School. He ridiculed what he considered to be their excessive zeal for representing movement, “Look at those buildings,” he said, ” they are not moving. Yet the Impressionists would blur them as they would the vehicles and the passersby.” And quite rightly so. One does not usually stand in the street ; the upward and downward movement of walking, in addition to actual constant change of position, communicates to buildings the appearance of motion. Things are not as they seem; they seem not as they are; and to paint them as they are, actually and momentarily, is not to paint them as they seem. I was once in the studio of the painter just referred to he is a landscape painter with another landscape painter, who said to him, ” A, the one thing your pictures lack is movement.” The one thing this painter-critic seeks in his work is movement, though sought in Constable’s way, not in that of Monet and his fellows ; the other painter holds strongly to design. Perhaps we may be allowed to enjoy both these phases of art.
Monet, then, obtains the general effect of landscape by brush-work that ignores detailed truth of form. Not unseldom the touches, when seen even from the requisite distance to get the general effect, are obviously hardly even approximations to truth of form. Still, as we regard the picture as a whole, not examining it bit by bit, we do get the sense of movement, of vibration, of life. I am writing with a small, black-and-white reproduction of his La Grenouillérea river bathing-scene before me. The water, the boats, the trees, the people, are none of them truthfully drawn; I can see this, looking carefully, when several yards away from what is intended to be held in the hand; yet even when so held, the reproduction almost produces the illusion of one’s actually standing upon the river-bank with the scene before one.
Again, Monet lays side by side touches of different colours that cannot be seen individually when the picture is looked at from the intended distance. They reach the eye as a single hue. This, also, is no new thing ; but Monet made a new, or at least greater, use of it, through which his pictures obtain the effect of vibrating light that distinguishes them. We may put it that, in this case, the eye sees what it cannot distinguish. It may be argued that there is no warrant for this in nature. But we are concerned here with effects, not with facts. All that we want to know is whether or not this method enables the painter to give on canvas or paper the impression of vibrating light. There can be no doubt that it does so, and this is sufficient justification when it is this effect that is sought.
In another respect, also, he and his companions and followers have departed from literal truth in order to achieve their end ; they have exaggerated the violet in shadows. Mr. George Moore says that he once asked Manet, who adopted this method towards the end of his life, why he did so, and that the reply was, ” One year one paints violet and people scream, and the following year every one paints a great deal more violet.” People scream because they cannot see the violet shadows in nature. They are, in fact, not there. Why, then, put them on the canvas ? Because the appearance to the eye of natural shadows does, by contrast, tend towards violet ; and the exaggeration of this appearance on the canvas does increase the illusion of sun-light and shade there. Has not the reader seen in the shop-windows those provoking statuettes, coloured violet in some parts and bright red in others, which present completely the illusion of being illuminated from one side by a ruddy light ? This is a vulgar trick. But the Impressionists have made use of this same means to obtain beautiful effects of light. We may say, paradoxically, that they attain to truth by the way of untruth.
I am reminded here of an essay on art written in 1874 by James Hinton, who was philosopher as well as man of science, surgeon, and philanthropist, and who, though numbered neither among the artists nor the critics, worked out in this essay a theory of Impressionism, actually using the name, though in all probability without any knowledge of the work of the French painters at least, the essay gives no evidence of such knowledge.
He says that in looking at pictures he has observed that they can be divided into three kinds one, atrociously bad because the drawing has not an accurate resemblance to the objects intended to be delineated; another, in which the objects are accurately delineated; and a third, in which they are, as in the first kind, inaccurately delineated, and yet the general impression is true. To the first two he refuses the name of art. Of the third he says : ” It is the art of doing right and doing wrong together ; that is the thing in which the emotional faculties of men find their truest delight, so far as painting goes I do not mean to speak of other arts. Now I believe, as to the inexplicable charm of a true painting upon us, which it produces quite independently of its subject or of any ideas which it is designed to express, which we feel almost more purely when there is nothing in the painting at all, and when unromantic, unsublime subjects are sought out, because then we get this peculiar charm of art alone, and feel it by itself there is a magic in it, a rightness and a wrongness that fascinates us we don’t know why, but we know this, that it is true to nature.” Then he goes on to say that we know nature to be infinitely complex, ” and that if a person puts down on a piece of canvas simply just so much of what presses upon his eye as he can reproduce upon a plain contracted surface with extremely gross fingers, as compared with the delicacy of Nature’s, he does not represent Nature ; he chooses out certain parts of her, and gives them all that belongs to them as far as he is able, but an innumerable number of other things he totally leaves out. He says : ` These things have certain rights and I have given them.’ But in giving them these rights he has left out an immense number of things which he could not put upon his canvas. If he delineates accurately a few objects, he does this at the expense of others.”
And there is more than this. “But further,” says Hinton, ” nature does not consist merely of objects, even supposing he [the painter] was able to put them all on to his canvas, but it consists of objects bathed in light, and the painter has to paint this light as existing, this atmosphere which bathes them.” Yet again, Hinton says that science represents nature, not as a mere aggregation of separate things, but ” as a constant flux of forces, a constant process and series of changes, in which it can recognise action but knows nothing of substance. Now if art could be true to nature by representing a destined number of things side by side, there would be a conflicting representation. . . . As it is, it so happens there is really no fight, because Art has simply outstripped Science, making before her her own affirmations. For Art, whenever it becomes art at all, denies all things, and treats things with the utmost imaginable unconcern, making them to be anything which suits some other truth of nature. . . . Art represents nature as a process. The only pictures which your eye can regard with true complacency or judge as being true to nature show that photographic representation of objects is not the secret of art.”
This analysis of art principles by one of the most penetrating of modern thinkers is surely of great value in relation to our immediate subject. It is all the more significant as coming from one who, as already said, was a specialist neither in art nor in art-criticism. It seems to me not merely to justify the work of the Impressionists, and, indeed, much other work the same in general motive if not in particular method, but also to suggest a wide and fertile field for art-work in the future. I venture to quote one more passage from the essay : ” I have looked at pictures a good deal, in order to make them tell me what were the rules and what the limits by which and up to which the painter might deviate from accuracy in his drawing, and I came to this conclusion that there were no rules and no limits ; that he might deviate in any way and to any ex-tent; that there need be no shadow of resemblance between the patch of colour and the object it is supposed to stand for. The painter seems to act with absolute license, yet we know, of course, that he obeys an absolute law. What is the law ? It evidently has no relation to the thing. The only law laid upon a painter is that his sacrifice of the object shall be one that nature gives him a right to make ; that he shall make it for her sake and not for his own ; the sacrifice shall not be wanton, but for the sake of something else. The departure from accuracy must be a sacrifice of one claim to another.”
How thin and superficial beside this deep and far-reaching analysis is the following saying of Burne-Jones, apropos of the Impressionists : “I think that nothing short of perfect finish ought to be allowed by artists ; if unfinished pictures become common we shall arrive at a stage of mere manufacture, and the art of the country will be degraded.” May we not say that the term manufacture is much more applicable to the picture finished to the last detail than to the picture, not really unfinished, but sufficiently finished for the end that the artist has in view ?
Another saying of Burne-Jones’s, already quoted, may be tested with reference to Monet’s work. He said that though the Impressionists made atmosphere, they did not make beauty, design, or idea. Now Monet’s work is beautiful to me, not merely because atmospheric effects are in themselves beautiful, but precisely because he did ” make design.” His pictures are no mere collections of badly-drawn objects placed just where he happened to see them. Though he has worked face to face with nature, it is easy to see that he has arranged to suit his own purpose what has been before him. Where there has been no reason to the contrary his pictures are as beautifully designed as those of the classical landscape painters, and in the same way. What reason could there be to the contrary The very cogent one that, whereas the classical designer is thinking chiefly of the plane of his canvas, Monet has sought to forget it and to suggest the infinity of planes, reaching to the utmost bound of vision, in the scene before him. His design goes into the picture, not across it. Yet even then, lateral design, if I may so call it, is not excluded, it is merely subordinated to the main purpose of the picture. In the picture already referred to, La Grenouillère, the boats, and a little landing-platform, are so arranged as to draw the eye towards a little island with people on it almost in the centre of the picture; they do this as well as aid in producing the illusion of space. In his pictures of poplars, to be mentioned again hereafter, the trees on the bank of the winding river form a beautiful rhythm of lines. And examples might be multiplied. The existence of design has been denied merely because it has not been of the conventional kind.
Again, Monet has designed in colour. Here also painting in the open air has not meant mere acceptance of what patches of colour were in the scene before him. Perhaps even Holman Hunt and Millais did not quite make this mistake ; but they went nearly all the way to it, with the result, as I have already said, that much in their pictures escapes from the design in them. In Manet’s pictures there is a harmonious play of colour from which it is no exaggeration to say that no particle escapes. I find in my notebook this entry with reference to his Le Déjeuner at the Luxembourg : ” Purple greys and blues and grey-greens, running up into warm greens and yellows, and on, through the quiet red of the wall in shade, to the scarlet of geraniums and fuchsias.” This is a prose record of colour the beauty of which it is a pleasure even to call up again before one. Of the same picture I have another note : ” The black band and ribbons of the straw hat, hung in the tree, and the dark hue of the tray on which the coffee-pot stands, with the strong green of the basket, give the necessary foil to the delicate play of light and colour in the rest of the picture.” I might quote similar notes of other pictures, but it is needless. Such things, of course, are the commonplaces of art. And it is to show that Monet has not overlooked these commonplaces that I have mentioned them.
We find, then, design, and therefore beauty, in Monet’s pictures. What about ideas, which Burne-Jones also denies to the Impressionists ? Here, of course, we have to recollect that Monet is purely a landscape painter; and we need not look for ideas unless we give the word a wide interpretation. If we do so interpret it we shall perhaps conclude that he does not fail in this respect, having felt deeply, and subtly painted, the air and the light without which there could be nor life nor beauty in the world. His pictures are so many lyrics in praise of the wonder and beauty of what is not least wonderful and beautiful in nature.
One word more before we end these general remarks on his work. It may be said that even in effect Monet’s work does not always resemble what we actually see ; and in this particular, that the atmosphere is more in evidence in his pictures than it is actually to our sight. We may say that he represents it as a less subtle, a less transparent fluid than it actually is. Understanding that art is not nature, is there nothing to be said for rhetorical statement in art? Especially, surely, this is so with regard to the atmosphere, as, while the painter can only appeal to the sense of sight, we do actually both see as in the blue of the sky and in haze and mist and also feel the atmosphere ; we feel it as the wind plays upon us, and as we, passing through it, meet with its resistance. We may say that in this, again, Monet fulfils Hinton’s condition of being untrue only in order to be more true.
Monet has lived to win recognition for his art, and, with it, pecuniary reward ; but for years the struggle was a hard one. ” One must have the strength for such a fight,” he has said. He has known what it is to be penniless, and hardly to earn a mere subsistence by selling his pictures for four pounds each. Now their value has increased a hundredfold, and in recent years his income has risen to thousands not a few, which the reader must take, as he will, either as evidence of a change of fashion only, or of some among the picture-purchasing public having learned to see the truth and the beauty of Monet’s art. And still he paints and gardens at his home in the Seine valley.
We have seen Pissarro as the pupil of Corot and afterwards as the fellow-exile of Monet in :England during the German invasion of France in 1870. When he returned to his own country he settled in the little, but historic town of Pontoise, having as neighbours, in the village of Anvers, only four miles away, two other painters Cezanne and Vignon. The three often worked together and exchanged ideas about art. Pissarro became, in one respect, almost a blend of Corot and Millet. He had Corot’s sense of the charm of simple landscape, though he came to treat it less ideally ; and his interest in the life and work of the peasantry approached that of Millet, though remaining subordinate to his interest in the landscape.
M. Duret says : ” To define him by his characteristic trait, it may be said that he was the painter of rural nature and of rural life. He never sought for rare motives in nature, he did not think that the painter ought to seek out exceptional prospects. The places that went straight to his heart, where he found the most intimate charm, were such as can best be called familiar : the sloping ground planted with fruit-trees, the field ploughed or bearing the harvest, pasture-land, the village with its old houses, and surrounded with garden plots. This rural side of nature was as much to him as were to others the exceptional beauties that they discovered, and which they set themselves further to compose and to improve. He wished to improve nothing, restraining himself to the faithful portrayal of scenes previously held to be the most common, and as such despised and neglected. To him they seemed in nowise despicable ; and he believed that art was Iatent in them and could be drawn from them.”
But we have to say again of Pissarro as of Monet, that though he never idealised his landscapes so as to deprive them of the intimacy of affectionate portraiture, yet they are not lacking in design. Our illustration shows this. And it shows also, as might be expected in the case of one who lived with nature as he did, that any neglect of form was no slight to nature, but that sacrifice of one truth for a truth believed to be higher, which we have already discussed. The summary treatment of the trees on the right in our illustration not only aids the atmospheric effect, but also serves to take the attention away to the left side of the picture, to which, indeed, the retiring perspective of the road, the figures, the more vigorous contrasts of light and dark, and the building above the trees, inevitably attract us; and here, where the eye is likely to rest, though there is no close rendering of detail, there is more suggestion of it.
The public and the critics cared nothing for Pissarro’s intimate treatment of ordinary scenes they saw no poetry in them, nothing worthy of so grand a thing as art ; even when the country-side was seen, as he saw it, and showed it, suffused with vibrating light.
He devoted himself thus to painting direct from nature, seeking to record more and more subtly effects of light, going, indeed, at one time to the very extreme of technical experiment to accomplish this end, until he had reached the age of seventy years. Then an affection of the eyes, while not interfering with his sight, forbade him longer to paint in the open air. But he was not to be driven into retirement. He simply went to Rouen, and there from house windows painted the streets, the cathedral, the bridges, the quays. Then he went to Paris and worked similarly there, and lastly to Dieppe and Havre.
It is to such men as he that we owe the revelation of the beauty in our modern towns. They are often not beautiful rchitecturally, they are not beautiful as a whole and in themselves. But there is beauty to be drawn from them, even though, for the most part, they be commonplace, dull, or even ugly and dirty. Monet and Pissarro had discovered the artistic possibilities of London, and when he could no longer work in the fields, Pissarro did not forget the lesson. His town-scenes vibrate with light and movement ; detail is sacrificed to general effect; but even in Paris one might say, rather, in Paris especially it is the general effect, the movement, the sparkle, the vivacity, that count. Looked at closely, most of the buildings are, in essential features and even in detail, mechanical even if well-designed repetitions of each other ; and to study them closely is soon to grow weary. In seaport-towns it is eminently the general picturesqueness of houses and shipping, under varying conditions of light, that we enjoy; and in going to Dieppe and Havre to paint such things there, Pissarro was obeying a common human impulse, as well as a sure artistic instinct ; and he was proving himself a follower, though one who had also learned much in the meantime, of Corot, of Jongkind, and of Boudin.
It must suffice merely to mention that he worked also as an engraver and lithographer. He was preparing, when over seventy-three years old, to paint another series of views of Paris, when a chill, succeeded by internal complications, ended fatally.
A third member of the group, Alfred Sisley, though of English parentage, was born, in 1839, in Paris, where his father carried on business. A business career was intended for him, but he declared for art, became a pupil of Gleyre, and counted among his fellow-students Monet and Renoir. Like so many of his contemporaries he modelled his art, to begin with, on that of Corot and Courbet. The war of 1870 ruined his father’s business, and death soon following disaster, the young painter, already married and having children, found himself dependent upon his art for the subsistence of his family and himself. His chances of success were by no means increased by his adoption of the Impressionist methods of his friend Monet ; and, in fact, he remained a poor man to the end of his days. In 1875 he offered twenty of his pictures for sale by auction, and they fetched the average price of a little over £4 each. A similar result followed the offer of eleven pictures in 1877. Sisley and Renoir used to get meals at a confectioner’s so many meals for a picture ! Not long after his death, which took place in 1899, one of his pictures sold for over seven-teen hundred pounds.
In France he painted chiefly in the country of the Seine and the Loing. During a visit to England in 1874 he painted on the Thames, at Hampton Court, and from May to October of 1897 he stayed in South Wales, painting there coast scenes and the sea. Notwithstanding his ill-success, it was the joyous side of nature that attracted him, the fresh beauty of the springtime, the opulence of summer. The brightness of his colour was one of the hindrances to his finding favour with the public of his day. His technique was modelled on that of Monet. Whereas, however, Monet and Pissarro devoted themselves in at least the greater part of their work to the country, Sisley chose the suburbs of Paris, and showed the pictorial content of the places where town and country seem to be battling for pre-eminence. A view up a quite commonplace suburban lane becomes beautiful when he expresses it in terms of sun and shade ; so does a highway when it becomes un effet de Neige. Ford Madox Brown, one recollects, made a picture of a Manchester suburban lane. The thing is common enough now ; and even those who do not make pictures of everyday town and suburban scenes still, in increasing numbers, see them as they pursue their daily work. How much of this added pleasure in life do we not owe to the Impressionists ?
Paul Cezanne, already mentioned in connexion with Pissarro, was born at Aix, in Provence, in 1839. He was a fellow-student of Emile Zola ; his father was a wealthy banker, and it was intended that he himself should become a lawyer ; but he wearied of his legal studies, abandoned them, and determined to become a painter. In Paris he came under the influence first of Delacroix and then of Courbet. From Courbet he passed to Manet, and then, in 1873, he went to live at Auvers, there, as we have seen, came into close companionship with Pissarro, whom he had already met in Paris, and became a plein air painter. Up to this time all his pictures, even his landscapes, had been painted in the studio. He had vainly presented his pictures at the door of the Salon, and it was largely on this account that he joined the Impressionists, and was an exhibitor at their first exhibition in 1874.
He had never gone through a regular course of training, was unskilled as a draughtsman, and his works, by consent even of his admirers, depend for their value on their colour. Yet some of those who can accept the other Impressionists, and even some of those who work in the same spirit and manner, shake their heads when they come to Cezanne. M. Duret tells an amusing story, illustrating the difficulties of his admirers who, he says, became a growing nucleus, composed of artists, connoisseurs, and collectors, forming a kind of sect, penetrated by a sort of fanaticism, in which he was placed in the very front rank. Herr von Tschudi, Director of the National Gallery at Berlin, purchased, in 1899, for the Gallery, pictures by Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Monet, Sisley, and Cezanne. Whereupon there was much heated discussion. The Emperor William heard the noise, wished to know what it was all about, and announced his intention of visiting the Gallery to see the much-debated pictures. The Director thought and M. Duret supports him that the Cezanne was the weakest part of a case which the Emperor was not likely to think very strong at the best ; so he removed it. The Emperor did not think much of the Impressionist works, and ordered them up to the second floor. When he had. gone, the Director replaced the Cezanne with its companions ! M. Duret says that when, on one occasion, he told this story in Paris, an auditor said that an emperor could not be expected to feel anything but horror at such anarchist painting as that of Cezanne. He was called a Communard when first he exhibited in 1874. Such epithets almost excuse me from an attempt to describe his work. I might almost do so, however, in language that could be held applicable to communism they are formless and manifest a passion for light. In his private life, says M. Duret, Cezanne ” is a wealthy citizen, conservative, Catholic, who could not think of himself as suspected of being an insurgent, and who has given all his time to art, leading the most regular life, and entirely worthy of esteem ! ” Really it seems as if one of Mr. George Moore’s aldermen had strayed into, not merely the criticism, but the practice of art, and shown that his kind was capable of reaching the very antipodes of Philistinism !
The Impressionists spoken of hitherto have been chiefly or wholly landscape painters. Pierre-Auguste Renoir has applied the new methods almost entirely to figure subjects.
He was born in 1841 at Limoges, where his father was a tailor in a small way of business, but parental desire of an increase-of fortune was the occasion of the future painter’s being taken to Paris when he was about four years old. The better fortune did not come. Each of the tailor’s five children had, as soon as possible, to begin to earn money, and between the ages of thirteen and eighteen the young Auguste worked as a painter on porcelain, and hoped to get employment in the manufactory at Sévres. But machinery was invented to do the painting that hitherto had been done by hand, and he had to find another occupation. He became a painter of blinds, and in three or four years had saved sufficient money to enable him to enter the studio of Gleyre, there, as we have seen, to make the acquaintance of Monet and Sisley. From 1864 to 1870 he was regularly accepted at the Salon, but in 1872 and 1873 he met with the fate that came to all the Impressionist group as their individuality in treatment of light and colour developed, and in 1874 he joined them in the first separate exhibition in the Boulevard des Capucines. Here his La Danseuse and La Loge came in for their full share of the general ridicule with which the exhibition as a whole was received. To the exhibition of 1876 he sent eighteen works, and in 1877 he exhibited, amongst other pictures, The Swing, and The Danse at Montmartre, or Moulin de la Galette, both of which now form part of the Caillebotte collection in the Luxembourg Galleries.
Financially, as well as in repute, Renoir fared no better than his companions. Like them he had hard work to make both ends meet. Sales by auction brought him about the same return as they brought to the others an average price of about four pounds a picture. He resorted to portrait painting, and this both kept the pot boiling and, as it happened, obtained for him admission to the Salon. He received, through the instrumentality of a friend, commissions to paint the portraits of Madame Charpentier, a lady with much influence in literary and artistic circles, and of Mademoiselle Jeanne Samary, a member of the Comédie-Francaise, and a public favourite. Refusal of these portraits was impossible, and they were well hung in the Salon of 1879. Thereafter he was generally accepted at the Salon, and he contributed also to most of the separate Impressionist exhibitions.
Though Renoir has painted landscapes, he has been above all a figure painter, and it is chiefly his pictures of women and children that dwell in the mind. To this work he brought the landscape methods of Impressionism ; his people live amid light and air, which, we might almost say, are as living as the people. Sunlight, sometimes clear, sometimes broken with shadows, plays upon face and form, and when the light is merely diffused, we feel the presence of the air ; his people must be breathing it ; as they walk or dance, it will eddy and swirl about them. He is also a colourist, or one might better say a painter of variously, brilliantly coloured light. His colour may not please ; it does not please all who admire his work ; but he is certainly sensitive to colour, and uses it fearlessly, not shirking the difficulty of combining harmony with brilliance and variety. His use of purple for shadows was one great offence in the eyes of the orthodox thirty years ago. He has sought to express the infinitely varied brilliance of nature in terms of art. The colour plays upon us ; when we analyse it, when we note how the prevailing colours are relieved and intensified by sparing use of their complementaries, we realise that he composes in colour instinctively, as a poet finds rhythm and a musician harmonies of sound.
But though he is thus sensitive to light and colour, his people are not mere screens upon which effects are thrown. They live, and live individually. The choice of subjects for portrait painting, especially portraits of women and children, is usually too much governed by ability to pay long prices both for the portraits and for dress. Renoir loves to paint women and children of what we call the middle, the lower middle, and the working classes. He shows us the ordinary people of Paris as they are ordinarily to be seen at home and in the places of public resort. In the houses, at the theatre, in the streets, in the gardens of the Luxembourg, in the Champs Elysees, we are constantly seeing Renoirs in a natural state. He paints no problem-pictures ; he does not look at the dark side of life. His people are in a normal condition, if to be normal is to be contentedly happy. Madame Charpentier is happy to be with her two daughters, and they to be with their mother, with each other, and with the big dog that one of them uses as a seat. The young mussel-gatherers are happy to be gathering mussels. Dancers are happy, whether in outdoor dress at Bougival or in evening dress in Paris. The boating people, who are talking after their meal at a table under an awning, are as we find, when we can take our eyes away from the subtle play of light and colour and look at them individually enjoying themselves just as we all enjoy a day on the river when we get the chance of it; and the individuality of attitude and expression is almost startlingly true. We envy the happy unconsciousness of the girl who has fallen asleep with her cat on her knee ; the relaxed muscles tell of sleep. We envy the painter who can show so marvellously how the direct and the reflected light plays on her flesh, and on her dress, the cat, and the chair, and the floor, emphasising in everything its peculiar texture. How happy, also, are the two girls, one of whom tries a piece of music on the piano, while the other stands by her, and how unaffectedly natural they are in attitude and expression. Renoir takes us into the company of Parisians who are not “gay,” but happy ; and we feel the happier for having been with them.
Several women-painters have to be included either in the Impressionist group or amongst its allies, Of these, Berthe Morisot comes certainly within the group, and was not the least interesting member of it, not merely on account of her sex, but of the high merit of her work. She was born at Bourges in 1841, and belonged to a family in which the pursuit of art was a tradition. Her grandfather was an architect; her father was an enthusiastic amateur who studied in the École des Beaux Arts and travelled in Italy and other classical lands of art. Both Berthe and one of her sisters, Edma, received an art training. In 1862 they made the acquaintance of Corot, and by him they were re-commended as pupils to Oudinot, a painter who worked in his manner, and by 1864 they were both exhibitors at the Salon. Edma, who was the elder of the two sisters, abandoned painting on her marriage in 1868 ; Berthe, who, as well as her sister, had made the acquaintance of Manet, continued to paint, and also sat to Manet for several of his pictures. Under his influence she began figure painting, all her earlier work having been landscape. After 1873 she ceased to exhibit at the Salon, and joined the independents in their first exhibition of 1874, in which year also she was married to Manet’s brother, Eugène. At a later date she adopted the methods of Monet and Renoir, sacrificing detail and firmness of outline in order to place her figures and her landscape within the atmosphere and to irradiate them with light. There is singular womanly, it may be frankly said charm and grace in her work. Her landscapes worthily carry the Corot influence into the new time and manner, and in her figure painting her young girls are particularly delightful. One might search the world of art through and not find young life more sympathetically interpreted. As we look at her pictures we wish to meet these children, to draw them out, to have life made better for us by their freshness and simplicity, and, at times, to find why they look, as children will look, so gravely earnest.
Her draughtsmanship was accomplished, and she had a fine sense of colour. Both for the technical quality of her work and her feeling for the beauty of nature and her subtle interpretation of character, she well deserves the equal place she holds with the male members of the group. Frail and of a nervous temperament, she died in 1895 at the early age of forty-four.
It does not come within the scope of such a general sketch as this book obviously must be to attempt an exhaustive list of the painters of any school or country. I do not, therefore, curiously inquire whether or not I am naming all those who in a full enumeration should be included in the Impressionist group. The name of Guillaumin, another of the landscape painters, should be mentioned. For the rest, it must be enough if I have succeeded in showing what were the aims and the achievement of those who were most prominent in the movement. Of others who have variously adopted its principles there will be something to be said hereafter. I have now to turn to those who, working and exhibiting along with the Impressionists, and influencing them and being influenced by them, are still not strictly to be counted as of their number.
First among these must come Manet, who has been named already more than once or twice, and who and whose work, it may be said, ought to have been discussed earlier. My reason for leaving him so long is that I wished to trace the Impressionist movement without confusing it with other considerations.
Edouard Manet was born in Paris in the year 1832. His father was a judge ; the family was legal. by tradition. He passed through a regular educational course, and took a degree in letters. An uncle who was a colonel in the artillery taught him to draw. He showed marked ability ; but his father would not hear of his becoming an artist. He was sent on a voyage to Rio de Janeiro as a distraction from art, but to no purpose. He sketched on board ship. Further resistance was seen to be useless, and in 1850, at the age of eighteen, he became, as we have already seen, a pupil of Couture. Manet must have felt his instruction to be valuable, for he stayed with him six years, acquiring a strong bent towards realism.
This apprenticeship over, he set out on his travels. In Holland he was influenced by Franz Hals permanently, as the event proved. He passed to Germany, visiting Cassel, Dresden, and Munich, and also Prague and Vienna. At Munich he copied Rembrandt. Then he went on into Italy, to Venice, Florence, and Rome ; and was especially impressed by the great Venetians, particularly by Titian and Tintoretto, whose paintings in the Louvre he copied after his return to Paris. He also, with more important results, copied Velasquez, and the great Spanish master’s influence on his work became very marked, and was strengthened by a visit to Spain in 1865. Couture had taught him to test tradition by reference to nature ; realism was impressed upon him by another contemporary master, Courbet ; of all the old masters whom he studied, Franz Hals and Velasquez influenced him most. Each of these men was a great master of the brush ; Velasquez, by common consent, the very greatest. Each was a colourist, in the sense not of brilliance, but of deep harmony; Velasquez, again, of the greatest. Each set men and women upon the canvas with convincing truth Hals with the truth of external appearance and passing mood, Velasquez so that what life’s experience has added to what came by birth and breeding seems to be revealed, and the finally formed character to stand naked before us as if for judgment. Such were the men from whom Manet assimilated all of them of which he was capable.
Those who were in authority soon pronounced against the art of Manet as revolutionary. Indeed, it must have seemed to them anarchic, threatening the ruin of art in a welter of license. The tradition derived from the Italian Renaissance then held sway over artists, critics, and the general public. Long use had made the artificial seem natural. Contact with life and nature was regarded as an unholy thing. The art practised, taught, and admired in Paris concerned itself with anything rather than the country around Paris, the look of the city, and the look and the life of the people in it. Delacroix, who treated historical subjects with an approach to realism, was regarded as a dangerous innovator. Courbet, who carried realism still further, and pictured the life of his own time, was accursed ; he knew not the classical law nay, worse, he deliberately broke it. Corot’s idyllic interpretation appealed in vain to those who could see and yet were blind.
At the Salon of 1859 Manet’s Absinthe Drinker was rejected ; but, in 1861, two pictures by him, a double portrait of his father and mother and a vivacious study of a Spanish guitar player, were accepted, and for the latter he actually received honourable mention. This did not prevent the picture he sent to the next biennial exhibition from being rejected. It was the Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, which now hangs in the Moreau collection at the Louvre. The Salon of 1863 is remarkable in the history of French art, because the large number of rejections, which included works by such men as Harpignies, Jongkind, Cazin, J. P. Laurens, Pissarro, Fantin-Latour, Legros, Manet, and Whistler, led Napoleon III to grant permission for the opening of another exhibition, which received the name of Salon des Refuses. In 1865 the authorities of the Old Salon, warned by the consequences of their wholesale rejections in 1863, were more catholic; and they admitted Manet’s Olympia, which now hangs in a prominent place in one of the large galleries of the Louvre.
It is necessary to say something about the subjects of these pictures. The Déjeuner sur l’Herbe represents two men, in modern dress, seated on the grass near a riverside. By them is also seated a woman entirely nude, her clothing lying on the ground with the basket of bread and fruit of which the picnic-lunch consists. Beyond this group another woman, only partially dressed, is standing up to her knees in the river. The two men are eagerly engaged in conversation. In the Olympia, an anaemic-locking woman, completely nude, is lying on a couch facing the spectator; a negress has entered the room, bringing her mistress a bouquet of flowers ; a black cat which has come in with her stands at the foot of the couch.
It is commonly said that to Manet himself these pictures were but technical experiments ; he merely wished to observe and render human flesh under various conditions of light. This can be done without giving offence or causing discomfort to the most sensitive. But even enthusiastic admirers of Manet’s art find it necessary to mention these pictures more or less apologetically. They were more than an experiment ; they were a challenge. Manet knew they would give offence. To think otherwise is to think him a fool. The Italian masters had painted similar subjects ; every one admired such things when they had come from the hand of Titian or Giorgione. Manet’s contemporaries painted the nude, but in a conventional way, minimising if not wholly avoiding offence. His Déjeuner sur l’Herbe is his uncompromising modern equivalent for Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre, his Olympia is his equivalent for Titian’s reclining Venus. There is no need to discuss the significance of the challenge. Perhaps it lacked even more than good taste and wisdom. So did others of Manet’s works, thus making possible such charges as have often been made indiscriminately against the French realistic painters. All that need be said further is that such pictures become historical documents, and though Mr. George Moore says that Manet banished the subject from art, the subjects of such pictures as these are likely to find material for future essayists on the social and ethical problems of the nineteenth century, and not of that century alone. One may add, also, that it is not a little hard on art, somewhat selfish of the average sensual man and the apologist of art for art’s sake, to grant it the treatment of such subjects, and to deny it the treatment of others which may certainly be called higher, and are not incompatible with technical experiment and accomplishment.
Manet did, indeed, paint a picture of angels supporting the body of the dead Christ, which, again, we find appreciated as technique, and also, by implication, as making no appeal to religious feeling. There is a famous Entombment by Titian in the Louvre, of which Mr. George Moore says that all Titian saw when he painted it was “a contrast a white body, livid and dead, carried by full-blooded, red-haired Italians, who wept, and whose sorrow only served to make them more beautiful.” Perhaps; then, Manet, in his picture, was explaining how the Italians of the full Renaissance regarded sacred subjects, and maintaining that they ought always to be regarded thus. If so, one repeats it was not kind to art.
None of these pictures, of course, had for subject any-thing that Manet could not study and paint from model and object his dead Christ is only a model. Much later in life he painted an historical subject the execution of the Emperor Maximilian ; but this was an exception. He did some illustrations for Mallarme’s translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee “; but the illustration of “A Kingdom by the Sea ” showed an ordinary watering-place, with a nursemaid and children on the sands. Manet had not the gift of imagination. Like Browning’s Lippo Lippi, he saw, not visions, but,
The shapes of things, their colours, lights, and shades, Changes, surprises ;
and certainly he saw, also, in his own way, ” the value and significance of flesh.” And shapes, colours, lights, and shades he sought ever more truthfully to record. This was a passion with him. There was a time during which he saw as he had learned from Velasquez; there came a time when his sight became more independent. But a large part of the attraction that such masters as Franz Hals and Velasquez had for him, as compared with those most in vogue in his time, was the individuality, the directness of their outlook.
Not that Manet, in escaping from the conventions in which art was too closely confined, ceased to be an artist. The realistic side of our own Pre-Raphaelite movement came near, at least, to making this mistake. Manet only changed the methods of art to enable it more fully to interpret life and nature. The conventional colour and light and shade are absent from the Déjeuner sur l’Herbe. But the figures are skilfully grouped and are pictorially related, both in grouping and in colour, to the landscape. Green and brown and grey, passing into black towards one end of the scale, and to a warm tint, approaching white, in the flesh of the nude figure towards the other, are the prevailing colours. The canvas, as a whole, has a sober, cool effect ; what would otherwise be monotony is relieved by the blue of the woman’s dress, and by the restricted use of quiet reds, as in the fruit and the tie of the man to the right. Tradition lingers in the treatment of the landscape, and there is as yet no approach to subtle rendering of atmospheric effect. Manet was consciously treating an old theme in a modern way, and in doing this he could not but to some extent suggest the old.
In the Olympia, again, where the colour-scheme is in warmer tones, it is carried through the picture, and has no less art because it is more natural than the conventions of the older painters. Again the traditional proportions and arrangement of light and shade are set aside, but there is only a change, not a neglect of art. A lack of modelling, noted when the picture was first exhibited, is obvious, and shows that, though Manet impatiently resented Courbet’s criticism to this effect, he had still something to learn.
In choosing such subjects as these Manet was still thinking of the past, even if in the way of challenge and protest against its excessive influence. The Guitavero, The Fifer, The Bull-Fight, The Man Drinking, and other pictures were plainly reminiscent of Velasquez.
It may safely be said that his acquaintance with the work of Franz Hals made him see more readily than otherwise he would have done, that the stout, jolly-looking engraver, Belot, comfortably seated in his arm-chair smoking his clay pipe, and holding his glass of beer, though it stands on the table as if to protect it from the disaster many a glass of beer has met with from the clothing of a hasty passerby was a good subject for a picture. Every one says, it cannot but be said, that this portrait, to which the painter gave the title Le Bon Bock, is reminiscent of Hals. It is so because Hals saw truly, and because he painted the portraits of men and women not distinguished from the mass of their fellow-beings by any particular graces of form or character. The average man and woman were his subject. Such is the comfortable-looking man, so carefully guarding his bon bock, whom Manet has put before us, with close appearance of actuality, so that we can take the same kind of delight in the picture as the uninitiated take in the fiddle realistically painted on the Chatsworth door. But the delight goes deeper than this. Not only does the man almost seem to be there before us, but the painter has so interpreted the character of the man that we get into sympathetic relation with him. He is one with much experience of a kind of life, which, fat and jolly-looking as he is, has not, does not now, give him all he craves for. Good humour is obvious, but in and about the light there plays a shade. Those who are born to trouble know that here is one of their kith and kin. This is no Laughing Cavalier though him, also, we are glad to have. Manet has gone deeper than Hals was wont to go. Nor was the portrait painted as the portraits of Hals were painted. Not one or two, but over eighty sittings are said to have been given before the canvas was held to be complete. Manet, in fact, took endless trouble with his work, and through this labour became a consummate workman. So far as he was an Impressionist it is clear that Impressionism and careless workmanship are not synonymous.
Whether he or Monet is to be considered the founder of Impressionism may be left as a point in dispute. He actually applied the word ” impression ” to his own work. After he had been excluded from the collections of French Art in the Universal Exhibition of 1867, he held a separate exhibition of his own pictures, which he put for-ward as sincere works, and said, ” It is the effect of sincerity to give a painter’s works a character that makes them resemble a protest, whereas the painter has only thought of rendering his impression.” It was in 1870, while painting in the open air, that he was first so strongly affected by the effects of light and atmosphere which the Impressionists have set themselves to render, and which afterwards entered largely into his work. We need not discuss precedence in point of date. Monet’s name must always be more closely associated with Impressionism, in the sense understood here, than that of Manet, because, painting always in the country and the open air, and living and working so many years after Manet’s death, Monet has been the leader of the Impressionists, whether or not he was the first clearly to. apprehend and exalt into a principle that after which others had been dimly feeling.
Manet was a Parisian. What is meant by this may, for our immediate purpose, be expressed negatively by saying that he was not a Puritan. He was, apart from his art, an average man of the Parisian world. There is much in that world that the average Englishman does not like we think of Matthew Arnold’s word lubricity. Let us say the Englishman is right. Still, the work of a Parisian painting life as it is in Paris may be good art, and, at least, has actuality. One-half Paris, however, can criticise the other half ; and Manet’s pictures were not always rejected at the Salon as bad art, but as bad morals, and likely to induce bad morals. Such was the fate of Nana. Herr Muther says of Manet’s Parisian studies, and of this picture in particular : ” In tender, virginal, light grey tones, never seen before, he depicted in fourteen pictures exhibited at a dealer’s the luxury and grace of Paris, the bright days of summer and soirées flooded with gaslight, the faded features of the fallen maiden and the refined chic of the woman of the world. There was to be seen ` Nana,’ that marvel of audacious grace. Laced in a blue silk corset, and otherwise clad merely in a muslin smock with her feet in pearl-grey stockings, the blonde woman stands at the mirror painting her lips, and carelessly replying to the words of a man who is watching upon the sofa behind.” Another writer praises the technique of the picture, and says that the subject was harmless enough. The authorities at the Salon rejected the picture. Quite right, we say, from our average English point of view. Yet does any one ever cry for the rejection at the Royal Academy of portraits of women who are, perhaps, of impeccable conventional morals, yet are most expensively dressed and bedecked with jewels, notwithstanding the Christian injunction against riches, and insistence on their evil power Millais was an Englishman, and he painted the portraits of those who could afford to pay many hundreds of pounds for the distinction ; and he made the return he got in money one test, at least, of real success in art. Manet was a Parisian, and he painted Nana, and A Bar at the Folies-Bergères. But Paris did not mean only this to him. Boating may be taken to represent the Parisian holiday-making on the sea, and is as wholesome as any English yachting picture. By the way, M. de la Sizeranne, in his criticism of English painting, blames our artists for often letting the edge of the frame cut off awkwardly the fignres in their pictures, and says that they often do not use canvas large enongh for their subjects. In this picture of Manet’s we have a fragment of a boat, a fragment of a sail, and a fragment of a girl. The legs of the man who is steering the boat are only not cut off by the frame-edge because they are hidden behind the girl’s dress. Spring : Jeanne, is a charming picture of a girl walking out in the sunshine, the play of light being the chief motive of the work. Manet accepted perhaps he never had any alternative the life into the midst of which he was born, and used his art to interpret it. His pictures, therefore, will be, for the future, historical documents.
How true this is already of one of his pictures here reproduced, Le Concert aux Tuileries sous le Second Empire. The reproduction suffices to show that the picture is an impression. There is the indistinctness that movement gives; the picture has the air of actuality. Here is all the bustle of a crowd. The scene has been taken in as a whole ; that is to say, it has been looked at pictorially, not analytically. A colour-scheme runs through the picture. The prevailing colours are black, gold, and green ; and there are notes here and there of olive and dull red. The half-century that has nearly elapsed since the picture was painted has brought, needless to say, change after change in costume. In this the picture becomes historic. Then some of those who seem almost to live before us are historic personages. Here are Offenbach and his wife, Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier, Fantin Latour, Manet himself, and others. Manet did bring art into closer touch with nature and life and the actual appearance of things.
The reproduction of the portrait of Mademoiselle Eva Gonzalés, who was a pupil of Manet, is a happy illustration of one side of his art. It is admirable both in action and expression. The fair painter is intent upon her work, yet, it not being true that people cannot do two things at once, she is either interested in something that is being said to her, or in thoughts of her own apart from the work she is doing. The reproduction shows how vivacious is the portrait, and how well the picture is composed; something also can be seen of the breadth yet subtlety of the lighting. The colour is quiet yet rich, the greys, blues, browns, and sober flesh tints are forced out by the black hair, sash, and vase in the picture within the picture, and relieved by the hues of the flowers.
A portrait of his sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot, is a fine realisation of mood. Fan in hand, and as if weary after some social function, she has thrown herself down upon a couch, and half sitting, half reclining, is deep in a reverie which brings upon the mobile features and to the eyes that see an inward vision, an expression of thoughtfulness that either is, or is near to, sadness. It is a portrait of which one instinctively uses the word noble. And, again, not only is the picture humanly lovely and true, it is also beautiful as art; the figure and its accessories are well placed within the area of the canvas, the light and shade are well balanced, the colour is harmonious.
Manet, as we have seen, said that an artist’s sincerity might look like a protest. It is difficult to think that there were not, at times, in his art protest and challenge. Anyhow, he met with bitter antagonism. He felt it deeply. He had high spirit, and the opposition spurred him on. But it also exhausted him, and he died, worn out, at the early age of fifty-one.
Another of the allies of the Impressionists, often, indeed, counted as one of them, is Edgard Degas, who was born in Paris in 1834. M. Duret says of him : ” We have not included Degas among the Impressionists, although he always exhibited with them, and is to-day generally classed with them; but this is because the name Impressionist has become so vaguely used as to lose all precision. If we wish to be exact, we must hold Degas apart from the Impressionists ; his origins, the nature of his art, distinguish him from them. To count him as one of them is, indeed, to go contrary to his own wish. He has personally always refused the title Impressionist. When, at the exhibition of 1887, those who really showed the qualities that had given rise to the name finally adopted it, he opposed it to the utmost. Degas has nothing in common with the Impressionists but his colour, which he owes to them in part. For the rest, he has never, like them, systematically painted in the open air, which is distinctive of them, and his technique is of another kind. He has his point of departure in the classical tradition, he is above all things a draughtsman. His ancestors are Poussin and Ingres. One finds in his early days an admirable copy of The Rape of the Sabines, and designs executed according to the methods of Ingres. His own first work was a Semiramis, conceived in the pure spirit of historical painting, to which the Impressionists were always indifferent or hostile.”
Degas was the pupil of Ingres, who hoped great things of him hoped that he would be faithful to and exalt the classical tradition. It was Degas who carried Ingres from his studio when he fell down in the fit which ended only with his death. As another instance of the nature of his early studies, a copy may be mentioned that he made of Holbein’s portrait, in the Louvre, of Anne of Cleves. This copy is now in the collection of M. Durand Ruel. An early work of his was an Interior of an American Cotton-Broker’s Office, remarkable for its minute elaboration of detail. This was modern enough. His first contribution to the Salon, how-ever, was a pastel having for its subject War in the Middle Ayes. One thinks of Millais, beginning as an emulator of the classical Etty and ending as a realist, though in an English way, as Degas did in a Parisian way.
The change in art, which was gathering force about the mid-century, so strongly influenced the work of Degas that, after 1870, he, the pupil of Ingres, ceased to exhibit at the Salon, and joined with Manet, Monet, and the rest in their separate exhibitions. For all that, as it has been said, he never became strictly an Impressionist. While they became devotees of light and atmospheric effect, draughtsmanship, action, and colour are the most conspicuous qualities of his work. The Impressionists came early under the influence of Corot and Courbet. Ingres was to them the leader in a hostile camp. But enemies are not hostile in every particular; and Degas could turn away from the Salon and join himself to the Impressionists without wholly adopting their point of view which, after all, was only one point of view and without finding it necessary to forget all he had learned from Ingres. He did, however, become a colourist, and he put aside subjects taken from legend and history, to interpret as best he could the life of his own day.
Like Manet a Parisian, his outlook and his choice of subject have been determined by his environment. As Millet, the peasant, cared only to interpret the life of the peasant, so Degas, the townsman, has cared only to interpret the life of the town. And, it has to be said, it is the life with which ” the man about town” becomes familiar that has been the main subject of his art. If all the Impressionists and their allies had limited themselves to such subjects as Degas has almost invariably chosen, there would have been much justification for the judgment passed upon Impressionism by Mr. Holman Hunt and others, to which allusion has frequently been made here. ” Impressions of a ballet dancer,” a phrase of one of Ruskin’s pupils that comes to mind, was probably used with reference to the work of Degas; but we must have regard to the movement as a whole ; we must not forget Renoir’s many renderings of the sweeter, more wholesome side of Parisian life ; and when we come to such work as that of Degas’ American pupil, Miss Mary Cassatt, we shall find to what irreproachable uses his methods can be put. Again, we have to ask if he has regarded the seamy side of town life cynically. Has it made him bitter ? He has long been a recluse. Mr. George Moore sees cynicism in his realistic renderings of what is rather the naked than the nude. The whole question of realism in literature and art looms up before us. We recollect that Zola was the champion of Impressionism. There is an idealism that will not walk along a street for fear of soiling its boots. Is there also a realism that, sick of this unreality, tramps in the mud by way of protest ? There is certainly a monastic, a negative ideal of goodness to-day that does not hide itself away in monasteries, that even thinks itself actively good, is apparently, and often in intention, beneficent, but in a cold, passionless way. It is so respect-able as to get itself mistaken for real goodness; but it is evil and a root of evil. It was recognised and labelled nigh two thousand years ago by one whose name is reverenced by those who mistake it for real goodness. English art, reflecting English life, has honoured it. There is deeper mischief in this than in Degas’ impressions of ballet-girls, whatever may have been his motive in painting them ; for however wonderful his skill, however beautiful his pictures may be as art, they wring from us the cry, ” O the pity of it 1″
In earlier years he made the race-course the theme of many pictures. Here the draughtsmanship asserts itself ; his colour, though harmonious, has not come to the full. The horses are fine in action and in animal character. The jockeys and the spectators are convincingly true. The mere drawing of an open carriage becomes a miracle under his hand. Yet there is no laboured definition.
The theatre scenes, which came later, are marvels of colour, light, gesture, and movement. The light glares and gleams, the colour seems to tremble and change before us ; the dancers are flitting across the stage. But however fugitive all may seem, the draughtsman is always in evidence.
The splendour-the barbaric splendour of the ballet, shall we say ?has been transferred to paper or canvas so as to lose little of its actuality, so as to seem hardly a motionless imitation of the thing itself. Witness the picture reproduced in colour in this book, which is a triumph of realism in terms of art. Is Degas alive to the degradation, the horror, that too often underlie the glamour and the beauty ? Does he wish us to see that the dead are there ? Is there any Hogarthian purpose in his work ? I do not know. I have shown the reproduction just mentioned to not a few people, and not only to those with a narrow range of experience, and the degradation obvious in the faces of the dancers has almost invariably so impressed them that they have hardly been able to bring themselves to consider the skill of the work, the vivid sense of movement, and the beauty of the colour. These girls are human moths, heedlessly because ignorantly light-hearted, singeing not the body only, but the spirit in the flame. I will not moralise, at any rate any more than to say that such evil as this will not be ended until the average of that which accounts itself good has been lifted to a higher plane. A friend once remarked to me, after we had witnessed such a scene as Degas has often represented so vividly, ” I sometimes wonder if it is right ever to seem to encourage such things.” Has the reader never left a place of so-called entertainment with a sickening sense of loathing ? Herr Muther says of Degas : ” He was the merciless observer of creatures whom society turns into machines for its pleasure dancing, racing, and erotic machines. He has depicted cruelly the sort of woman Zola has drawn in Nana the woman who has no expression, no play in her eyes, the woman who is merely animal, motionless as a Hindu idol. His pictures of this class are a natural history of prostitution of terrible veracity, a great poem on the flesh, like the works of Titian and. Rubens, except that in the latter blooming beauty is the substance of the brilliant strophes, while in Degas it is wrinkled skin, decaying youth, and the artificial brightness of enamelled faces.” It is even worse than this. These women are not always mere machines ; they are not without expression ; there is play in the eyes they are incarnations of evil. The pictures are a strange, wild medley of sensuous beauty, of sensuous hideousness, and of sensual evil. They are appallingly true. They wrap nothing up. In a pastel drawing, now in the Luxembourg, Degas has depicted a later stage of the degradation bedizened, drink-soddened creatures in a café on the Boulevard Montmartre. Through the window we see the stream of life surging along the street. The scene is only too true.
The picture by which he is best known in England is doubtless The Ballet Scene in Robert the Devil, now in the South Kensington Museum. The spectators are the real subject of the picture; here again we have the truth, whether cynically given or not. These black-coated, well-groomed men, of a type that most congregates in places of entertainment of a certain kind, are the counterpart, the explanation, of the women in the café at Montmartre. The works of Degas are historical documents of human inhumanity.
Such, and so varied, was the return to nature and to life in the art of France that was almost contemporary with the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England. In each case there was more than a return. Nature and life were seen and interpreted with an intensity hitherto unreached. Neither movement is as yet exhausted. They have both brought into art things which can never be taken from it again; though not every artist, not every school, will necessarily give them the same prominence. Of those who have carried on, or in varying degrees made use of, the experiments and discoveries of the French Impressionists and Realists, we shall have to speak in a later chapter. We turn now to follow the fortunes of the English movement after the lapse of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. But before doing so, a word should be said about an influence, hitherto unmentioned, that affected the art of the French painters, and has since been more widely influential ; that is to say, the art of Japan.
Just when the Pre-Raphaelites were fighting their battle in England, and when the way was being prepared for Impressionism in France, an event took place in the Far East, the full significance of which, for art and for much besides, it will be for the historian of the distant future to estimate. It was in 1853 that Commander Perry entered the harbour of Uraga, in Japan, with a squadron of United States war-ships, and did not leave until he had extorted from the Shôgun a treaty by which the long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world was brought to an end. Treaty-ports were opened, and many countries soon acquired trading rights and formed settlements in them. In 1868 the old feudal system of Japan was destroyed, and the country soon set out on that career of development in the course of which she has borrowed largely from Western civilisation, and which has been followed with so much success as to take the world by surprise.
Japanese art had influenced Western art in the eighteenth century, when the wonderful porcelain and lacquer-work found its way to Europe. The opening of the treaty-ports led before many years had passed to the arrival of Japanese paintings in Europe, and they reached Paris just at the time when the change that was taking place in art assured to them appreciation and the exertion of a most powerful influence. We have traced what may be called the natural history of the change ; it was the correction of old theories by a fresh return to nature and to life. The originative masters of the past had painted as they saw and as they felt. Their methods were valid for themselves and their own time, but not for all men at all times. Yet they had come to be regarded as having little less than absolute authority. Hence the revolt whose course we have been following. And, just when the revolt was in full progress, there came the revelation of an art that had existed for centuries quite independently of the art of the West, owing nothing to Greek or Roman, to Raphael or to Michael Angelo, but yet of obvious vitality and beauty.
Painting in oil has been, since its invention by the Van Eycks, the method most in use and :repute in the West. This method is unknown in Japan, where painting means only delicate tinting in water-colour or Chinese ink on paper or silk. To an art with only such means as these at disposal a ponderous realism is impossible. Certainly it has not been attempted. Japanese painting is suggestive ; it is content to leave much to the imagination. Yet it is full of significance. What it has it uses to full purpose. Line has never been made more expressive. The colour is not only delicate, but harmonious and, at need, broad. There is endless delight in the interest and beauty of natural facts, but the artist by no means thinks that his duty ends or begins with a mere literal transcript of them. He reserves full liberty to express them in terms of art. He is concerned not merely with facts, but with the emotions the facts arouse in him ; he selects from the infinite multitude of facts before him those that will express his emotion, and being an artist he sets down even these, not in the way of bald imitation, but rhythmically. This is not the place to attempt even a mere summary of Japanese painting, but it should be said further the importance of this feature for Western art will appear hereafter that only occasionally elsewhere has the emotion aroused by the contemplation of vast spaces, such as the distance over a level landscape, the void of air between the spectator and a distant mountain, the infinity of the sky, been so marvellously interpreted as in Japanese art.
The discovery of this art aroused nothing less than enthusiasm among those who were already committed to innovation. It gave them authority for modifying the tradition that had come down to them, since, while it owed nothing to that tradition, it was yet expressive and beautiful. It is interesting to note that a similar effect has been produced upon certain minds as to the question of authority in religion, by the obvious power of Japanese religion and ethics to support the nation in such a stupendous effort, both physical and moral, as the recent struggle with Russia. However this great question may be decided and it is matter here only for passing reference by way of illustration drawn from another region of life there can be no question of the influence exercised by Japanese art in the sixties, and of its continued influence hitherto. It had not only the liberating effect just referred to; there were elements in it that were obviously capable of immediate adoption into Western art. In certain matters of colour, design, suggestive interpretation, fresh outlook on life, it showed itself to be ahead of Western art in the direction in which that art, under the hands of at least some of its exponents, was tending. Monet, Manet, and Degas were among those who studied Japanese art, and formed collections of its products ; and to its influence, in part at least, was due the resolution with which they put aside those traditions of colour, design, and subject which they felt to be no longer for them adequate means of expression. More joyous colour, more freedom in design, suiting the structure of the picture to its emotional purpose, as in the strictly Impressionist works, the novel effects of perspective, foreshortening and light, obtained by representing their subjects as seen from above as in the case, for example, of many of Degas’ theatre scenes these and many other things were suggested by the art that had come as a revelation. The nude studies of such men as Renoir and Degas, some of them almost if not wholly repulsive to those with whom the art to which they are accustomed has not made such things familiar, receives part of its explanation from the art of Japan. To that art reference will have to be made not once nor twice later on, for its influence on the movement we have just been studying, here briefly noted, by no means, as already has been said, exhausts its significance for Western art. Paul Cezanne @ Web MuseumPaul Cezanne (1839-1906)Paul CezanneCezanne – A Modern Old MasterImpressionismImpressionism @ WikipediaImpressionismThe ImpressionistThe Post-ImpressionistsLandscape Painting – The True Impressionism