New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art – Part 2

“MASTER HARE” (Room 15) is one of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ rare pictures of boys (Fig. 34). His girls, so familiar to us, stand for typical English young girlhood—and lovely young misses they are too. No artist ever came nearer to the heart of children than did Sir Joshua, the bachelor painter, and no one knew better how to unlock the wealth of affection locked up in the reticent, rather austere painter than the girl of a dozen years. He showed just that deference to her sex that is dear to the shy miss’s haunting sense of her due; and she saw in the dignified courted man of the world a being to be worshiped.

In “Master Hare” Reynolds has caught the baby at the winsome moment when he sees the bird beyond his reach and is eager to show that he understands, as he points with his tiny finger. Many of Reynolds’ pictures have a transparent, brilliant quality that had baffled all research until Gilbert Stuart discovered that he had mixed wax with his paints to give greater transparency to the colors. Once when Stuart was copying a portrait by Reynolds in a warm room he noticed that one of the eyes was moving downwards. In an agony of mind, for the picture was a most valuable one, he quickly removed it to a cold room and gradually and cautiously worked the eye back in place. But for this accident, Reynolds’ secret might have been unsolved.

We believe that Reynolds loved boys just as well as girls when we remember his courtesy, in 1770, to the boy named Buckingham. This boy, knowing that his father knew Sir Joshua Reynolds, the President of the Royal Academy, called at the artist’s studio and asked Sir Joshua if he would paint him a flag to carry in a procession at the close of his school. The great painter smiled, for his every hour was worth dollars, but he told him to call at a certain time and he would see what he could do for him. The boy called at the specified hour, and we can imagine his delight when Sir – Joshua presented him with a flag a yard square decorated with the King’s coat of arms. An exceedingly proud boy carried the flag and a very proud school felt the honor, but Sir Joshua was the proudest because he had helped make the boys’ parade a success.

For real homey pictures, Pieter de Hooch (1629-1677) leads the way. True, he represents Dutch homes, but the spirit of the home is the same whatever the nationality. In his picture of “An Interior” (Fig. 35) he has taken the most ordinary circumstance of the household routine of daily life and has made it delightful. Though it is a common scene, it is far from commonplace after de Hooch’s brush has touched it. How naturally the little maid turns to speak to the dog as she proceeds with her special service. And the smiling approval of the mistress is just the human element that brings us close to this tidy home. The caressing sunlight, coming through the door and window, is another strong note of the individuality of this “little master.” Was there ever a brighter spot than that open space beyond the porch?

De Hooch loved to picture several rooms leading into each other and then out into the broad sunshine. Look through the open door at the right of the picture and see how he has increased the interest of the scene by the peep into another room. Then the luxuriant vine and the inviting tree speak eloquently of comfort and enjoyment. He imbues the material things that stand for the home with the warmth of a living presence, while the real per-sons in his pictures are of secondary importance; in fact he usually added his people as an afterthought to help bring out the effect of the sunlight. Notice that almost invariably he has a checked or plaid floor with the bright sunlight falling athwart it or illuminating it with diffused light. Rare, rich garnets and deep yellows, softened by the surrounding atmosphere, have a personality in his pictures. Almost nothing of the personal life of de Hooch is known, except that he was born in Delft and died in Amsterdam, at least he was in that city as late as 1670.

“The Frugal Meal,” in the next room (16), was a favorite subject of Josef Israels (1824-1911). We feel that the artist must have sat with many a peasant household and eaten of their simple meal. The warmth of companionship is more than that of one looking on from the outside.

Israels, born of Jewish parents, began the study of painting at sixteen. At first he simply followed in the footsteps of others, but as he saw deeper into life his art expressed more of living character and less of material things. Like Kipling, he could have said :

“The people, Lord, thy people, are good enough for me!” It was as though his very heart and soul yearned to express on canvas the lives of the peasant people as he knew them. As time went on, he simplified and blended form and color until they became living and sentient things in the luminous atmosphere surrounding them. But never for one moment did he lose the essential element in a picture or make us feel that his sentiment had deteriorated into sentimentality. Few artists in their own lifetime have come into their own from a financial standpoint as did Israels. His pictures ran up into the tens of thousands of dollars while he was still living, and he could enjoy the sense of pleasing the public without lowering his high standard of work.

The Vanderbilt gallery (16) has a large number of fine examples of the Fontainebleau-Barbizon School of 1830. Here we find Millet’s “Sower” (Fig. 36). This is probably the best known of the master’s works in this country. Millet once wrote: “Devoid though the peasant’s toil may be of joyousness, it nevertheless stands, not only for true human nature, but also for loftiest poetry.” No scene of his fulfills these words more truly than the “Sower.” The poetry of the soil, that is it. I have stood dreamily looking at the rhythmic swing of those capable arms when suddenly the sun steals into the room and the picture lights up until the man and his oxen on the hilltop beyond are lifted into the loftiest heights and the scene awakens thoughts too deep for words. One day a boy of a dozen summers stood by me before the picture. At last he said, wistfully,

“I wish I could see the man’s face!” He felt the power of it, but like the rest of us, wanted to get nearer to the cause and boy-like wanted the man’s face to explain the mystery.

Now turn to the “Water Carrier.” There is no question about seeing the face on this woman, but does it explain the power of the picture? I think not. We have to acknowledge that rarely do people working incessantly in the fields and at household tasks express mental activity in their faces. But look at the set of the head on the square shoulders and at the upright body and well balanced buckets. That woman is the head of the home. She has gone out to the well at the end of the path for water for her own household. No paid attendant could take on the air of proprietorship that that woman has.

“The Forest of Fontainebleau,” by Diaz, is one of those insistent pictures of nature that steal into our very heart of hearts. The light falling on the open space beckons us and the delicious shade of the splendid trees in the foreground holds us. Diaz (1808-1876) was of Spanish parentage, though born in Bordeaux, France. He was among the first men to go to Barbizon and it was his big pipe that Millet smoked (see page 42). No one loved to paint October scenes better than he. He loved the brilliant color that the finger of Jack Frost brought out in tree and vine. He was a practical man with a big joyous heart, ever ready to help a needy friend. When he died Dupre, one of his pallbearers, said of him: “The sun has lost one of its most beautiful rays.”

To the left of Diaz’s “Forest of Fontainebleau” is an “Autumn Sunset,” by Jules Dupre (1812-1889), that must be seen to appreciate the gorgeous effect of the setting sun through broken clouds that overspread the sky. Broad fields stretch away in the distance; cattle and sheep and peasants are grouped here and there, and over all hovers a golden light—red California gold.

In the next room (17) is “The Hay Wagon” (Fig. 37), by Dupre. Dupre and Diaz both began their art education in a porcelain factory, where they studied design; these two were often called the decorative painters of the Barbizon school. It is little wonder that Dupre captivated the public with his rustic scenes. The great charm of the “Hay Wagon” is its simplicity and the human element that enters into the scene. A storm is brewing. The family hurrying home have come to a sandy, sidling road leading around a curve. The woman with the child beside her on the hay guides the horse, while the man pushes the wagon from behind. The sense of strain in the man’s low-lying body makes one feel the heavy road and the creaking wheels plowing through the loose sand.

“Morning on the Seine” (Fig. 38), by Daubigny (1817-1878). I once saw an old gray-headed artist standing before Corot’s “Dance of the Nymphs.” After a long silence he said, with an indrawn breath, “It is a Corot; there is nothing more to be said !” then turning to a Daubigny near by, he remarked, “And this man we love. He comes so close to us with his sunny meadows and shady streams.” Daubigny loved the atmosphere ; he bathed every-thing in it. How the feathery young trees at the left rustle their delicate leaves, and the crinkly waves break away from the ducks as they waddle in the ooze. The square tower that marks the center of the tiny village on the low hill is a silhouette against the gray-blue sky, but toned and softened like muffled music. Daubigny was born in Paris, but his little house-boat on the Seine was dearer to him than any fine mansion in the gay city.

The “Ville d’Avray” (Fig. 39), by Corot, was the village where the artist spent most of his life. The peasant woman half kneeling in the foreground, as a spot of color, gives an added charm to the quiet scene. Corot’s human beings are simply a part of the song or an-them or spiritual essence that he somehow fixes on his canvas, the illusive quality of which is bewildering. That he did not always make plain the character of the living object he himself tells. He says, “Oh! the beautiful fawn-colored cow ! . . . I am going to paint her…crack ! there she is ! Famous, famous !” He sees Simon, a peasant, afar off but not daring to approach, so he calls him to come. “Well, Simon, what do you think of that?” pointing to the cow. “Oh, well, Monsieur,” says Simon, “it’s very beautiful, of course!”

“And you see well what I meant to paint?” asks Corot.

“Why, of course, I see what it is,” Simon insists, “it’s a large yellow rock you’ve put there !” But who can fathom the power that lay behind that brush?

Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867) was a strange mixture of gaiety and gloom. At times happy and light-hearted, he was the life of the little company at Barbizon; then there would come days of despondency and he would wander off into the forest with no companion save the trees he loved so dearly. He would often be gone days at a time, drinking in strength from his silent guardians. These periods of solitude perfected in him that sublime sentiment and love of warm rich color so characteristic of his compositions. He loved trees, and no lover was ever more ardent in picturing his beloved.

These old oaks, full of leafage at “The Edge of the Woods” (Fig. 40), are splendid in their strength begotten of many a winter’s storm and summer’s parching sun. And how tenderly he has pointed out the smaller trees in the open country, arranged against a deep blue, cloud-flecked sky. No wonder he used to say of trees, “I wish to converse with them, and to be able to say to myself, through that other language—painting—that I had put my finger upon the secret of their grandeur.”

Charles Jacque’s sheep are always amusing; he understands so well the stupidity of the innocent things. Nothing is more picturesque in nature than a flock of sheep in a green field with the sun playing hide and seek among them, and Jacque knew just how to bring out the picture element. He also could gather them into the fold when the sun is low in the west and preserve the note of contentment that comes when the flocks are cared for.

Was there ever a brighter scene than this “Sheepfold” (Fig. 41) with its pushing, reaching sheep, most of them after the same wisp of straw? See the chickens industriously scratching and picking to find every grain regardless of the restless bunch. The scene is a familiar one to every farmer, but we doubt if the poetry and beauty of it was ever found until such an artist as Jacque brought it to light. Look at the dancing light over the woolly surfaces. The slanting rays of the sinking sun have developed a wealth of beauty, and the artist touch has revealed it to us. Jacque was born in Paris in 1813 and died there in 1890, but he spent much of his time at Barbizon, where he painted landscapes and animals.