New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art – Part 3

SIR FREDERICK LEIGHTON (1830-1895) was the seventh president of the Royal Academy, London, from its beginning one hundred years before. He was not only an artist but a man of broad culture. As an artist he adhered to the Greek school in the ideal of making beauty of form paramount, rejecting every truth that did not include beauty of line. This rule stamped his works as sculpturesque, yet left them cold and dead as pictures.

The lovely “Lachryrnae” (Fig. 42), resting her head on her arm supported by a white marble column, is exquisite in her attitude of grief, but no chord of sympathy is awakened in us. She certainly is a beautiful classic figure, perfect in symmetry of line, with garments suggestive of sorrow, yet we feel that the composition would be more effective cut in marble.

Leighton’s thorough knowledge of classical lore opened up a wide field for choice of subjects—subjects suited to his tenor of mind. He was original in his conception of the old themes and always correct and elegant in drawing and in carefully laid colors. These traits were most acceptable to the English people and brought Sir Frederick princely prices for his pictures.

Nothing could be in greater contrast to Sir Frederick’s art than the portraits by Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904). The likeness of “Professor Emerson” (Fig. 43) is one of the masterpieces of portraiture. The strength of character that shines out from those piercing eyes is tremendous. Lenbach looked into the eyes of his sitters and there found the ruling principle of their lives. It is not surprising that he began every picture with the eyes and supplemented them with the other features of the face and the hands. He has here represented old age, but only in the frail body have the years made themselves felt; the professor’s mind is as clear as a bell. And how wonderfully Lenbach has made us feel the square shoulders and broad chest, though they are only suggested in the dark background.

In the next room is a dear little girl by von Lenbach, a portrait of his daughter. Lenbach was the son of a carpenter and worked at the bench when a boy. That he was proud of it is evident from a remark he made to the Princess Bismarck when riding with her one day. They were passing a carpenter at work on a peasant’s cottage, when he said, “I, too, was at that trade in my youth.” The artist’s portrait of Bismarck, “the Man of Blood and Iron,” is to Germany what Stuart’s portrait of Washington is to America. When Lenbach died all Germany mourned his loss.

A modern religious picture that rings true is “Among the Lowly,” by L’Hermitte (Fig. 44). We linger before this picture because the spirit of reverence in it holds us. It is well to stop in our mad rush and feel (they do not see) with this peasant family the holy presence of a guiding power. We need the silent rebuke that this picture brings. These are no idle words—this blessing—spoken hurriedly and perfunctorily, possibly no words are spoken at all, but the living bond between the Father and his children has come in answer to a heart need. Yes, L’Hermitte has pierced our worldliness and touched the religious spirit that makes us all akin. How he did it, who can tell? Somehow artistic merit of color, of atmosphere, of form are forgotten in the feeling expressed.

Possibly the most startling acquisitions ever made to the Museum are Joaquin Sorolla’s pictures. So startling is his representation of sunlight in “Beaching the Boat” (loaned to the Museum) that we involuntarily shade our eyes. His color scheme indexes the originality of the man. Skillfully used whites and reds and yellows are balanced by blues and violets of wide range, and these are used with the greatest rapidity of touch. Sorolla says of swiftness in work, “It came to me together with my earliest sympathy with nature. My studies in the open air cannot admit of lengthy execution. I feel that if I paint slowly, I positively could not paint at all.” One critic writes that it is his crisp, small touches of the brush that give intense vibrations of sunlight.

Did the sun ever kiss two young people with greater fervor or with a more tender caress than it has these two “After the Bath” (rig. 45) ? Sorolla, the peasant painter, sympathetic, spontaneous, truthful, steady-nerved, and a master of technique, is the “peasant realist of Spain.” Impressionism in his hands is healthy realism. These children of nature have the actual coloring of life and are surrounded by an atmosphere quivering with heat. Not all his pictures attract us as do these splendid cattle and unconscious young people but they do not irritate us like the works of the mediocre “Impressionists,” where the seemingly crude colors are laid against each other in patches and daubs nearly as thick as one’s little finger, and where to know the subjects the pictures must be seen through the big end of a telescope.

At the opposite end of the room is “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (rig. 46), by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868). This is the most famous picture of any American historical scene. Leutze, born in Germany, was brought to Philadelphia when a mere child. He returned to Europe and studied in the Dusseldorf Academy. He was a man cast in a big mold. With great enthusiasm and high ideals, he returned to America ready to push the new movement of the Academy—to overcome the artificial and try to produce some-thing of the life of the present. That he did not understand the tremendous force of the breaking ice in the Delaware River is probably due to the fact that he made his study for the painting watching the breaking ice in the Rhine at the foot of his own garden in Diissel dorf. General Washington could hardly have stood up with that dignified attitude in such a frail boat on the real Delaware at Trenton, December 25, 1776. Then, too, the use of the flag is an anachronism, as it was not adopted until six months later, June 14, 1777. Nevertheless Leutze has imparted a spirit of patriotic enthusiasm to the scene that overbalances all defects in the picture as a work of art.

The soft mellow light caressing the expectant face and the dainty bit of muslin in Israels’ “Expectation” (Fig. 47) has revealed a secret of the home that draws us very close; he has reverently touched the heart of motherhood. Israels, like Millet, saw beauty in the peasants. He entered their homes as a sympathizing friend and in his pictures he makes us feel their joys and their sorrows. True sentiment, he shows, is elemental and like all fundamental truths is quiet and unobtrusive in its workings.

There is always a touch of pathos in his pictures, even when he represents the happy side of life. We can see it in the two young faces of the “Bashful Suitor” hanging near the picture of “Expectation.” Both are so near the great joy of life, yet an unseen something suggests uncertainty. The wide expanse of landscape and these two young beings trembling on the verge of the great problem of their lives are portentous of suffering and sorrow. But he was an optimist, this sunny-hearted, genial man. His somber color and light and atmosphere have gripped truths that will live. There is a reminiscence of Rembrandt in his mellow light and his manner of using it.

Sargent’s “William M. Chase” dominates room 20, and well it may, for it is a splendid portrait of one of the great leaders in the American school of art. The portrait was a gift by the pupils of Mr. Chase.

The “Harp of the Winds” (Fig. 48), by Homer D. Martin (1836-1897), is one of the pictures sent to Germany several years ago to represent American art. A happy choice it certainly was. The delicate color and filmy atmosphere harmonize like delicious music. It is well named the “Harp of the Winds,” for the breeze stealing through the slender poplars must be whispering a sweet melody to the bowing trunks and waving branches, and they in turn are repeating the strain to the placid water where they are mirrored. This picture is a symphony, a poem and a color harmony. Homer Martin, except for a few weeks’ study with William Hart, was a self-taught artist.

The portrait of Augustus Saint Gaudens (the American sculptor, 1848-1907), by Ken-yon Cox, has had quite a history. The original picture, painted in 1887, was burned in Saint Gaudens’ studio at Windsor, Vt., in 1904. Mr. Cox painted this replica in 1908, a year after the sculptor’s death, from the studio studies he still had. The figure in the bas-relief, that Saint Gaudens is represented as working on, is William M. Chase, his friend and companion. They were about the same age.

One of the best beloved pictures in the Museum is “Joan of Arc” (Fig. 49), by Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884). The school children never tire of the peasant girl who saw visions and dreamed dreams. Bastien-Lepage paints Joan with wide-open eyes seeing a spiritual vision and hearing celestial voices. The shadowy figure in the background dressed in armor foretells how she is to fulfill her mission to her beloved France. Her story is so familiar that only a few words are necessary to bring it clearly to mind. Joan was only thirteen when she repeatedly heard a voice say, “Joan, fail not to seek the church.” For three years these voices came and finally urged her to immediate action. “For,” they said, “you must help the king and save France. The state of France in 1428 was terrible. England was besieging the country; the insane king Charles VI died in 1422, and left the kingdom to Henry V of England. The rightful heir, Dauphin Charles, was weak and indolent, with no army, no money and no energy. Joan’s visions and voices had been treated with contempt, but at this juncture a company of soldiers invaded her native village of Domremy, burned the church and pillaged the houses. To Joan this was a direct punishment for her delay, but when she applied for help to the head officer, he said,

“The girl is crazy; box her ears and take her to her father.” Joan insisted, exclaiming,

“I will go if I have to wear my legs down to my knees.” It was her timely appearance that saved the City of Orleans, and by her efforts the indolent Dauphin was crowned Charles VII of France at Rheims in 1429. If she could only have gone back home to her sheep fold and her spinning, France and England both would have been spared one of the most disgraceful events in all their history. The trial of Joan of Arc was shameful and in-human. It was held under the direction of the English and conducted by one of her own countrymen, Bishop Beauvais. As we look at her in this picture we say with real sorrow, “Poor girl ! the very stones of France must cry out at the injustice of your cruel death.”

Bastien-Lepage used to say, when people asked how he painted:

“I have no fixed rules and no particular method. I paint things just as I see them, sometimes in one fashion, sometimes in another, and afterward I hear people say that they are like Rembrandt or like Clouet.” He was often called the peasant realist of modern France.

“The Boy with a Sword” (Fig. 50), by Edouard Manet (1832-1883), was one of the startling innovations in portraiture of this leader of impressionism, and perhaps the most attractive one—an unquestioned masterpiece. Manet, like Millet, was searching for fundamental truths and getting away from the set rules that were killing all originality in the French art of his day. An extremist, one who is not afraid to break with tradition, is necessary to the progress of the world. The extremist never has the approval of the general public, and rightly so, but we gratefully ac-knowledge that it is his courage of conviction that lifts the world out of a rut to a higher plane.

As we look at the “Dead Christ,” next to the attractive boy gazing so frankly at us, we say this is not a pleasant picture. It may be decorative and all that, but we do not admire it and are glad to turn from it to the saner, more wholesome boy. Of course the subject is not a wholesome one, yet the great masters of the past, Titian for example, gave us pictures of the dead Christ that attract us. Manet certainly carried his point and created a great movement that today is bearing abundant fruit. He says of his determination to break with the past and invent something better, “Each time I paint I throw myself into the water to learn swimming. . . .” His personality was exceedingly pleasing; his brilliant intellect and sparkling wit gave to his conversation a piquancy most delightful and yet that cut through the crust of insincerity with the delicacy of a surgeon’s lancet.

Gallery 24 is largely filled with Turner’s work. We feel as we comprehend his pictures the peculiar sensation of blinded vision that comes when stepping into bright sunlight. The pictures seem to glow with a self-producing gleam. At first we are conscious of nothing but light in various shades of yellow, orange and red. But we will stop before the “Grand Canal of Venice” (Fig. 51) and let our eyes adjust themselves to the brilliant tones. Soon gondolas and fishing boats separate themselves from the crowd and each one becomes a unit in the sumptuous scene; next the Campanile rising in the distance makes it-self felt against the amber sky; then Santa Maria della Salute on the right, calls us, and we wish to enter with the procession climbing the marble steps. The picture is full of the spirit of Venice.

It would be hard to find a more unique genius than Turner—a weird, silent boy who was a dunce in school, and a strange, mysterious man who startled the art world with his genius. Mr. Ruskin says :—”There is no test of our acquaintance with nature so absolute and unfailing as the degree of admiration we feel for Turner’s paintings.” Pew of us, how-ever, can know nature in such magical moods or in such splendid attire as Turner depicts her. He seems to have formed a partnership with the sun and then to have outdone Old Sol in dazzling the eyes. Even with the sun’s powerful rays we cannot fathom the mystery of some of the artist’s works. And neither can we fathom the mystery of the man. We know that in early life he was disappointed in love and that he shunned society and became morose, taciturn, miserly, dirty and unlovely except to his father. We also know that his pictures, glowing with such glorious light, must have come from a heart filled with the sun-shine of love.

The Dutch room is filled with masterpieces. There are four splendid Rembrandts, one of the artist himself when in middle life. We shall discuss Rembrandt at length under the Altman collection (see page 120). We are al-ways interested in Franz Hals (1584?-1666). Athena-like, he appeared a full-fledged artist. He did not follow a long line of painters, but out of his own genius he developed a power that produced pictures inferior to none. We know little of the daily life of this wonderful man, but his portraits of the people around him are veritable biographies of the Dutch people of his time. The story that he loved the ale-house all too well may be true, but his convivial habits certainly did not prevent him from leaving some of the finest character sketches of ale-house habitués that have ever come from the brush of a painter. The laughing young smoker might be walking the streets of Amsterdam today. He would find plenty of his old companions.

“Hille Bobbe” (Fig. 52) was a fishmonger of Haarlem. There are two other portraits of her—one in the Berlin Museum and the other in the museum at Lille. It is possible that this picture was painted by Hals’ son, the younger Franz Hals, yet its close similarity to the Berlin portrait, except that there is no beer mug on the table, favors the older Hals. With the swift, bold strokes of the realist’s brush the “Witch of Haarlem” is brought before us just at the moment she has satirized her companions with her coarse wit. Doubtless Hals himself had often felt the sting of her ale-house jokes. She is a perfect caricature of Athena, but true to the life of her own social strata.

Now we turn from “Hille Bobbe” to “Vrouw Bodolphe.” Here is the true goddess of wisdom, and probably it was just such balancing power that kept Hals at his best in his art. Was there ever more force of character expressed in the grasp of the hands? That grand woman knew her own mind. There was no question of equality between Herr (the companion portrait) and Vrouw Bodolphe, for both recognized the comradeship of the other.

Adriaan van Ostade (1610-1685) was a favorite pupil of Franz Hals. Like his master, he knew the work-a-day people and also enjoyed their pastimes with them. This picture of “The Old Fiddler” (Fig. 53) transports us directly to a little Dutch town and there gives us a peep of the home, the itinerant musician and the resting place of the working men and women. How did Ostade ever crowd so much into one small canvas, without giving the least feeling of being jostled by too close contact? If there were no people in the dimly lighted thatched barn in the foreground, much of the warmth of personality would be lost. The little cottage in the bright sunshine would lose in its homey element were it deprived of the companionship of the drinking company. But our interest naturally centers around the old fiddler, for there the children play and the mother with her baby has stopped to listen to the music. Van Ostade’s luscious color, soft golden light and moist atmosphere are the magic that makes “The Old Fiddler” live as a masterpiece.

Jan Steen (1626-1679) is represented by one picture in the Museum, “A Dutch Kermesse” (Fig. 54). Again we find an artist of the alehouse-in fact, it is said of Steen that he had no studio, but set up his easel in public places and painted the scenes before him. In his inimitable manner he has pictured a village festival with all its drunken jollity, but in which the picturesqueness of the surroundings has softened the coarseness of the human element. The bright costumes against the soft green of grass and trees and the fleecy clouds and sparkling water under the low arch of the stone bridge are enchanting. How nature touched by a master’s brush softens man’s vulgarity !

Steen has often been called the Dutch Hogarth, but, unlike the English master, his pictures of vice are a little too attractive to be effective as reformers. One critic says of Steen, “If he had been born in Rome instead of Leyden and had been a pupil of Michael Angelo instead of van Goyen, he would have been one of the greatest artists of the world.”