THE Toledo Museum of Art has a collection of nearly sixty paintings by American artistsa collection, too, that embraces some of the representative pictures in American art.
George Inness, in his painting “After a Spring Shower” in the museum, shows that sensitive appreciation of the charm of nature’s transition period which only an artist atune to every mood understands. It is this seeing nature through spiritual eyes that is giving our landscapists today their power and that was the keynote of Inness’ artgetting away from the mercenary and artificial and opening wide the joy and gladness of God’s great out-of-doors. How sweet and clear and pure the air is, and how our whole being responds to the uplift of that spring day.
And now we turn to Winslow Homer, and again the petty and mean sink out of sight in the glorious “Sunlight on the Beach” (Fig. 141. “The sun reflecting upon the wind of strand and shore, is unpolluted in his beams.” The great ocean and the rockbound coast give back his power and glory. Homer, with his spiritual vision, saw it and wonderfully he has revealed it to us. A marvelous revelation is Winslow Homer’s interpretation of the mighty deep. Its majesty and power reflect the One “who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand.” And then the human side is so warm and intimate. The steamer steadily nearing port speaks volumes; the joy of the home-coming is in the glad sunlight that sparkles on the dark green waters around it and dissipates the mist of the land-storm sweeping out to sea.
While the ocean became more and more the real theme of Homer’s paintings, yet he never lost sight of its relationship to man. The artist’s heart was big with human sympathy and not even constant communion with the roar of waters in his home on the Maine coast could make him forget man in his art.
What better can we do than stand quietly and drink in the beauty of Dwight W. Tryon’s “Spring Morning”? (Fig. 142.) Spring morning ! the words themselves mean everything that is delicate, fresh, full of joy, the joy that “cometh in the morning.” Mr. Tryon, with Inness and Homer and men like them, stand for American landscape painting. They have given the national spirit that proclaims to the world our independence. Never was there a more individual interpretation of a spring morning than this lovely, tender picture of it. The light creeping up the horizon is lifting the mist, though it still lingers in the feathery tree-tops to kiss each tiny leaf-bud. The moist air is fragrant with the delicious odors of spring flowers and the tender grasses. All nature is singing praises to Him whose mercies are new each morning. For years Mr. Tryon has been gently and persistently leading the American people into an appreciation of the beautiful in nature. It has been a steady growth with the artist and his followersclean, pure, up-right, and progressive, never losing sight of the fundamental lessons of the masters of the past, but adding to those fundamentals a bet-ter understanding of God’s first temples.
Then there is Henry W. Ranger, born in New York City ten years later (1856), who sees nature from an entirely different angle. Bolder, more pictorial, he commands our attention from the very dominance of his particular color emphasis. Tryon’s “Spring Morning” is a shy bashful picture, holding us by its very shyness. Ranger’s “Landscape” (Fig. 143) grips us with its rugged trees resplendent in their rich brown bark and brilliant leafage under the glowing sun. What a splendid picture, and how we can enter into the enjoyment of the man under the shade of those trees.
It is our province, as the lay public, to try to understand the works of artists who are sincerely and sanely picturing for us the world we live in. We may not personally enjoy some particular picture, but we can be sensitive to whether it rings true or not. To those of us who are familiar with country scenes all the year round the paintings of our landscapists will form quite a complete monthly calendar. We are becoming very well acquainted with the winter king ; we come upon him so often in the various galleries, and are conscious that his stern, uncompromising reign is a favorite theme of the year’s seasons. It is exceedingly interesting to follow the artists’ treatment of winteras various as the artists are different one from another.
“Woodstock Meadows in Winter” (Fig. 144) by Birge Harrison is a very personal scene. Let us stand-in the loft window of the barn and allow our eyes to follow the course of the little stream. Yes, it is the same brook we paddled through barefooted only a few summers ago. See, the murky sky smiles at times, then the sun smiles too. The water sparkles and glistens as each tiny drop acts like a self-appointed mirror. We are seeing a beauty in this leaden day and this cold running water that we would scarcely have taken time to see had not the artist shown it to us. Mr. Harrison says : “I believe it is one of the artist’s chief functions to watch for the rare moods when nature wafts aside the veil of the commonplace and shows us her inner soul in some bewildering vision of poetic beauty.”
Mr. Harrison is a native of Philadelphia (b. 1854) and was first trained in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then studied at Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. As early as 1882 the French government bought one of his paintings. He is also well known as a critic and writer on art.
Mr. Thomas W. Dewing, a native of Boston, is one of the original Ten American Painters (see page 186). His paintings have a quality all their own, so insistent that when once felt it is impossible to overlook. His pictures are like letters from a personal friend; each one is distinct, and yet each has the f amiliar phraseology of the writer. In “Writing a Letter” (Fig. ‘145),. at first the element of aloofness almost says “stand off,” but the soft persuasiveness of the enveloping atmosphere holds us as it also holds these two figures in the perfect design. There is no emptiness in that room, yet we f rankly aver that a real room so bare as that would be empty; even the personality of two women could not illuminate it and make it palpitate as Mr. Dewing has with his magic brush.
His women are exquisite in dainty gowns of soft material and tender colors, and their exquisiteness is that of women used to selecting beautiful apparel, rather than fragile women with no power of endurance. Look at these two in “Writing a Letter.” They have square shoulders, with well developed muscles, and finely poised heads, and no superfluous flesh to interfere with the full use of the nervous temperament that is the American woman’s special asset. A nervous temperament is something to be desired, but the “Oh, I am so nervous!” habit is to be shunned as one would fight a wasting disease. The first can remove mountains ; a mole-hill overcomes the second.