Yet in all of Botticelli's work there is a tinge of melancholy—a shade of disappointment. The "Spring" is a sad picture. On the faces of all his tall, fine, graceful girls there is a hectic flush. Their cheeks are hollow, and you feel that their beauty is already beginning to fade. Like fruit too much loved by the sun, they are ready to fall.
Botticelli had the true love nature. By instinct he was a lover, proof of which lies in the fact that he was deeply religious. The woman he loved he has pictured over and over again. The touch of sorrow is ever in her wan face, but she possessed a silken strength, a heroic nature, a love that knew no turning. She had faith in Botticelli, and surely he had faith in her. For forty years she was in his heart; at times he tried to dislodge her and replace her image with another; but he never succeeded, and the last Madonna he drew is the same wistful, loving, patient face—sad yet proud, strong yet infinitely tender.
In that piece of lapidary work, "How Sandro Botticelli Saw Simonetta in the Spring," is a bit of heart psychology which, I believe, has never been surpassed in English.
Simonetta, of the noble house of Vespucci, was betrothed to Giuliano, brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Simonetta was tall, stately—beautiful as Venus, wise as Minerva and proud as Juno. She knew her worth, realized her beauty, and feeling her power made others feel it, too.
On a visit to the villa of the Medici at Fiesole she first saw Sandro Botticelli at an evening assembly in the gardens. She had heard of the man and knew his genius. When they suddenly met face to face under the boughs, she noted how her beauty startled him. His gaze ranged the exquisite lines of her tall form, then sought the burnished gold of her hair. Their eyes met.
First of all this man was an artist: the art-instinct in him was supreme: after that he was a lover.
Simonetta saw he had looked upon her merely as a "subject." She was both pleased and angry. She, too, loved art, but she loved love more. She was a woman. They separated, and Simonetta inwardly compared the sallow, slavish scion of a proud name, to whom she was betrothed, with this God's Nobleman whom she had just met. Giuliano's words were full of soft flattery; this man uttered an oath of surprise under his breath, on first seeing her, and treated her almost with rudeness.
She fought the battle out there, alone, leaning against a tree, listening to the monotonous voice of a poet who was reading from Plato. She felt the disinterested greatness of Sandro, she knew the grandeur of his intellect—she was filled with a desire to be of service to him. Certainly she did not love him—a social abyss separated them—but could not her beauty and power in some way be allied with his, so that the world should be made better?
"Shame is of the brute dullard who thinks shame," came the resonant voice of the reader. The words rang in her ears. Sandro was greater than the mere flesh—she would be, too. She would pose for him, and thus give her beautiful body to the world—beauty is eternal! Her action would bless and benefit the centuries yet to come. She was the most beautiful of women—he the greatest of artists. It was an opportunity sent from the gods! Instantly she half-ran, seeking the painter. She found him standing apart, alone. She spoke eagerly and hotly, fearing her courage would falter before she could make known her wish: "Ecco, Messer Sandro," she whispered, casting a furtive look about—"who is there in Florence like me?"
"There is no one," calmly answered Sandro.
"I will be your Lady Venus," she went on breathlessly, stepping closer—"You shall paint me rising from the sea!"
Very early the next morning, before the household was astir, Sandro entered the apartments of the lady Simonetta. She was awaiting him, leaning with feigned carelessness against the balustrade, arrayed from head to toe in a rose-colored mantle. One bare foot peeped forth from under the folds of the robe.
Neither spoke a word.
Sandro arranged his easel, spread his crayons on the table, and looked about the room making calculations as to light.
He motioned her to a certain spot. She took the position, and as he picked up a crayon and examined it carelessly she raised her arms and the robe fell at her feet.
Sandro faced her, and saw the tall, delicate form, palpitating before him. The rays of the morning sun swept in between the lattices and kissed her shoulder, face and hair.
For an instant the artist was in abeyance. Then from under his breath he exclaimed: "Holy Virgin! what a line! Stay as you are, I implore you—swerve not a hair's breadth, and soon you shall be mine forever!"
The pencil broke under his impetuous stroke. He seized another and worked at headlong speed. The woman watched him with eyes dilated. She was agitated, and the pink of her fair skin came and went. Her face grew pale, and she swayed like a reed.
All the time she watched the artist, fearfully. She was at his mercy!
Ah God! he was only an artist with the biggest mouth in all Florence! She noted how he tossed the hair from his eyes every moment. She saw the heavy jaw, the great, broad-spreading feet, the powerful chest. His smothered exclamations as he worked filled her with scorn. What had she done? Who was she, anyway, that she should thus bare her beauty before such a creature? He had not even spoken to her! Was she only a thing? She grew deadly pale and reeled as she stood there. Two big tears chased each other down her cheeks. The painter looking up saw other tears glistening on her lashes. He noted her distress.
He dropped his crayon and made a motion as if to advance to her relief.
A few moments before and he might have folded her mantle about her and assisted her to a seat—then they would have talked, reassured each other, and been mutually understood. To be understood—to be appreciated—that is it!
It was too late, now—she hated him.
As he advanced she recovered herself.
She pointed her finger to the door, and bade him begone.
Hastily he huddled his belongings into a parcel, and without looking up, passed out of the door. She heard his steps echoing down the stairway, and soon from out the lattice she saw him walk across the court and disappear. He did not look up!
She threw herself upon her couch, buried her face in the pillows and burst into tears.
In one short week word came to Sandro that Simonetta was dead—a mysterious quick fever of some kind—she had refused all food—the doctors could not understand it—the fever had just burned her life out!
Let Maurice Hewlett tell the rest:
"They carried dead Simonetta through the streets of Florence, with her pale face uncovered and a crown of myrtle in her hair. People thronging there held their breath, or wept to see such still loveliness; and her poor parted lips wore a patient little smile, and her eyelids were pale violet and lay heavy on her cheek. White, like a bride, with a nosegay of orange-blossoms, and syringa at her throat, she lay there on her bed, with lightly folded hands and the strange aloofness and preoccupation all the dead have. Only her hair burned about her like molten copper.
"The great procession swept forward; black brothers of Misericordia, shrouded and awful, bore the bed or stalked before it with torches that guttered and flared sootily in the dancing light of day.
"Santa Croce, the great church, stretched forward beyond her into the distances of gray mist and cold spaces of light. Its bare vastness was damp like a vault. And she lay in the midst listless, heavy-lidded, apart, with the half-smile, as it seemed, of some secret mirth. Round her the great candles smoked and flickered, and mass was sung at the High Altar for her soul's repose. Sandro stood alone, facing the shining altar, but looking fixedly at Simonetta on her couch. He was white and dry—parched lips and eyes that ached and smarted. Was this the end? Was it possible, my God! that the transparent, unearthly thing lying there so prone and pale was dead? Had such loveliness aught to do with life or death? Ah! sweet lady, dear heart, how tired she was, how deadly tired! From where he stood he could see with intolerable anguish the somber rings around her eyes and the violet shadows on the lids, her folded hands and the straight, meek line to the feet. And her poor wan face with its wistful, pitiful little smile was turned half-aside on the delicate throat, as if in a last appeal: Leave me now, O Florentines, to my rest. Poor child! Poor child! Sandro was on his knees with his face pressed against the pulpit and tears running through his fingers as he prayed.
"As he had seen her, so he painted. As at the beginning of life in a cold world, passively meeting the long trouble of it, he painted her a rapt Presence floating evenly to our earth. A gray, translucent sea laps silently upon a little creek, and in the hush of a still dawn the myrtles and sedges on the water's brim are quiet. It is a dream in halftones that he gives us, gray and green and steely blue; and just that, and some homely magic of his own, hint the commerce of another world with man's discarded domain. Men and women are asleep, and as in an early walk you may startle the hares at their play, or see the creatures of the darkness—owls and night-hawks and heavy moths—flit with fantastic purpose over the familiar scene, so here it comes upon you suddenly that you have surprised Nature's self at her mysteries; you are let into the secret; you have caught the spirit of the April woodland as she glides over the pasture to the copse. And that, indeed, was Sandro's fortune. He caught her in just such a propitious hour. He saw the sweet wild thing, pure and undefiled by touch of earth; caught her in that pregnant pause of time ere she had lighted. Another moment and a buxom nymph of the grove would fold her in a rosy mantle, colored as the earliest wood- anemones are. She would vanish, we know, into the daffodils or a bank of violets. And you might tell her presence there, or in the rustle of the myrtles, or coo of doves mating in the pines; you might feel her genius in the scent of the earth or the kiss of the west wind; but you could only see her in mid-April, and you should look for her over the sea. She always comes with the first warmth of the year. But daily, before he painted, Sandro knelt in a dark chapel in Santa Croce, while a priest said mass for the repose of Simonetta's soul."
George Eliot gives many a side-glimpse of the art life of Florence in the days of the luxury-loving Medici. She saturated herself in Italian literature and history; and the days of Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi and Fra Girolamo Savonarola are bodied forth from lines deeply etched upon her heart.
When you go to Florence carry "Romola" in your side-pocket, just as you take the "Marble Faun" to Rome. "Romola" will certainly make history live again and pass before your gaze. The story is unmistakably high art, for from the opening lines of the proem you hear the slow, measured wing of death; and after you have read the volume, forever, for you, will the smoke of martyr-fires hover about the Piazza Signoria, and from the gates of San Marco you will see emerge that little man in black robe and cowl—that homely, repulsive man with the curved nose, the protruding lower lip, the dark, leathery skin—that man who lured and fascinated by his poise and power, whose words were whips of scorpions that stung his enemies until they had to silence him with a rope; and as a warning to those whom he had hypnotized, they burned his swart, shrunken body in the public square, just as he had burned their books and pictures.
Sandro Botticelli, the painter, who made sensuality beautiful, ugliness seductive, and the sin-stained soul attractive, renounced all and followed the Monk of San Marco—sensuality and asceticism at the last are one. When the procession headed for the Piazza Signoria, where the fagots were piled high, Sandro stood afar off and his heart was wrung in anguish, as he saw the glare of the flames gild the eastern sky. And this anguish was not for the friends who had perished—no, no, it was for himself; the thought that he was unworthy of martyrdom filled his mind—he had fallen at the critical moment. Basely and cravenly he had saved himself. By saving all he lost all. To lose one's self-respect is the only calamity. Sandro Botticelli had failed to win the approval of his Other Self—and this is defeat, and there is none other. He might have sent his soul to God on the wings of victory, in glorious company, but now it was too late—too late!
From this time forth he ceased to live—he merely existed. Into his soul there occasionally shot gleams of sunshine, but his nerveless hands refused to do the bidding of his brain. He stood on crutches, hat in hand, at church-doors, and asked for alms. Sometimes he would make bold to tell people of wonderful pictures within, over the altar or upon the walls; and he would say that they were his, and then his hearers would laugh aloud, and ask him to repeat his words, that others, too, might laugh. Thus dwindled the passing days; and for him who had painted the "Spring" there came the chilling neglect of Winter, until Death in mercy laid an icy hand upon him, and he was still.
See the hovering ships on the wharves! The Dannebrog waves, the workmen sit in circle under the shade at their frugal breakfasts; but foremost stands the principal figure in this picture; it is a boy who cuts with a bold hand the lifelike features in the wooden image for the beakhead of the vessel. It is the ship's guardian spirit, and, as the first image from the hand of Albert Thorwaldsen, it shall wander out into the wide world. The swelling sea shall baptize it with its waters, and hang its wreaths of wet plants around it; nor night, nor storm, nor icebergs, nor sunken rocks shall lure it to its death, for the Good Angel that guards the boy shall, too, guard the ship upon which with mallet and chisel he has set his mark. —Hans Christian Andersen
The real businesslike biographer begins by telling when his subject "first saw the light"—by which he means when the man was born. In this instance we will go a bit further back and make note of the interesting fact that Thorwaldsen was descended from an ancestor who had the rare fortune to be born in Rhode Island, in the year Ten Hundred Seven.
Wiggling, jiggling, piggling individuals with quibbling proclivities, and an incapacity for distinguishing between fact and truth, may maintain that there was no Rhode Island in the year Ten Hundred Seven. Emerson has written, "Nothing is of less importance on account of its being small." And so I maintain that, in the year Ten Hundred Seven, Rhode Island was just where it is now, and the Cosmos quite as important. Let Pawtucket protest and Providence bite the thumb—no retraction will be made!
About the year Eighteen Hundred Fifteen the Secretary of the Rhode Island Historical Society wrote Thorwaldsen, informing him that he had been elected an honorary member of the Society, on account of his being the only known living descendant of the first European born in America. Thorwaldsen replied, expressing his great delight in the honor conferred, and touched feelingly on the fact that while he had been elected to membership in various societies in consideration of what he had done, this was the first honor that had come his way on account of his ancestry. To a friend he said, "How would we ever know who we are, or where we come from, were it not for the genealogical savants!" In a book called "American Antiquities," now in the Library at Harvard College, and I suppose accessible in various other libraries, there is a genealogical table tracing the ancestry of Thorwaldsen. It seems that, in the year Ten Hundred Six, one Thorfinne, an Icelandic whaler, commanded a ship which traversed the broad Atlantic, and skirted the coast of New England. Thorfinne wintered his craft in one of the little bays of Rhode Island, and spent the Winter at Mount Hope, where the marks of his habitat endure even unto this day.
The statement to the effect that when the Indians saw the ships of Columbus, they cried out, "Alas, we are discovered!" goes back to a much earlier period, like many another of Mark Twain's gladsome scintillations. So little did Thorfinne and his hardy comrades think of crossing the Atlantic in search of adventure, that they used to take their families along, as though it were a picnic. And so Fate ordered that Gudrid, the good wife of Thorfinne, should give birth to a son, there at Mount Hope, Rhode Island, in the year Ten Hundred Seven. And they called the baby boy Snome. And to Snome, the American, the pedigree of Thorwaldsen traces. In a lecture on the Icelandic Sagas, I once heard William Morris say that all really respectable Icelanders traced their genealogy to a king, and many of them to a god. Thorwaldsen did both—first to Harold Hildestand, King of Denmark, and then, with the help of several kind old gran'mamas, to the god Thor. His love for mythology was an atavism. In childhood the good old aunties used to tell him how the god Thor once trod the earth and shattered the mountains with his hammer. From Thor and the World his first ancestor was born, so the family name was Thor-vald. The appendix "sen," or son, means that the man was the son of Thor-vald; and in some way the name got ossified, like the name Robinson, Parkinson, Peterson or Albertson, and then it was Thorwaldsen.
Men who are strong in their own natures are very apt to smile at the good folk who chase the genealogical aniseed trail—it is a harmless diversion with no game at the end of the route. And on the other hand, all men, like Thorwaldsen, who teach cosmic consciousness, recognize their Divine Sonship. Such men feel that their footsteps are mortised and tenoned in granite; and the Power that holds the worlds in space and guides the wheeling planets, also prompts their thoughts and directs their devious way. They know that they are a necessary part of the Whole. Small men are provincial, mediocre men are cosmopolitan, but the great souls are Universal.
Two islands, one city and the open sea claim the honor of being the birthplace of Bertel Thorwaldsen. The date of his birth ranges, according to the authorities, from Seventeen Hundred Seventy to Seventeen Hundred Seventy-three—take your choice. His father was an Icelander who had worked his passage down to Copenhagen and had found his stint as a wood-carver in a shipyard where it was his duty to carve out wonderful figureheads, after designs made by others. Gottschalk Thorwaldsen never thought to improve on a model, or change it in any way, or to model a figurehead himself. The cold of the North had chilled any ambition that was in his veins. Goodsooth! Such work as designing figureheads was only for those who had been to college, and who could read and write! So he worked away, day after day, and with the help of the goodwife's foresight and economy, managed to keep out of debt, pay his tithes at church and lead a decent life.
Little Bertel used to remember when, like the Peggottys, they lived in an abandoned canal-boat that had been tossed up on the beach. Bertel carried chips and shavings from the shipyard for fuel, and piled them against the "house." One night the tide came up in a very unexpected manner and carried the chips away, for the sea is so very hungry that it is always sending the tide in to shore after things. It was quite a loss for the poor wood-carver and his wife to have all their winter fuel carried away; so they cuffed little Bertel soundly (for his own good) for not piling the chips up on the deck of the boat, instead of leaving them on the shifting sand.
This was the first great cross that came to Bertel. He had a few others afterwards, but he never forgot the night of anguish and the feeling of guilt that followed the losing of the shavings and chips.
Some weeks after, another high tide came sweeping in, and lapped and sniffed and sighed around the canal-boat as if it were trying to tug it loose and carry the old craft and all the family out to sea. Little Bertel hoped the tide would fetch it, for it would be kind o' nice to get clear out away from everybody and everything—where there were no chips to pick up. His mother could supply a quilt for a mainsail and he would use his shirt for a jib, and they would steer straight for America—or somewhere.
But lest the dream should come true, Gottschalk and his wife talked the matter over and concluded to abandon the boat, before it got sunk into the sand quite out of sight. So the family moved into a little house on an alley, half a mile away from the shipyard—it was an awful long way to carry chips.
The second calamity that came into the life of little Bertel was when he was eight years old. He and several companions were playing about the King's Market, where there was an equestrian statue of Charles the Twelfth.
The boys climbed up on to the pedestal, cut various capers there, and finally they challenged Bertel to mount the horse behind the noble rider. By dint of much boosting from several boys older than himself, he was at last perched on the horse. Then his companions made hot haste to run away and leave him in his perilous position. Just then, as unkind Fate would have it, a pair of gendarmes came along on the lookout for anything that might savor of sedition, contumacy or contravention. They found it in little Bertel clutching tearfully to the royal person of Charles the Twelfth, twelve feet above the ground. Quickly they rushed the lad off to the police- station, between them, each with a firm grip upon his collar.
Victor Hugo once said, "The minions of the law go stolidly after vice, and not finding it, they stolidly take virtue instead."
Besides an awful warning "never to do this thing again," from a judge in a ferocious wig, the boy got a flogging at home (for his own good), although his father first explained that it was a very painful duty to himself to be obliged to punish his son. The son volunteered to excuse his father, and this brought the youngster ten extra lashes for being so smart.
Long years after, at Rome, Thorwaldsen told the story to Hans Christian Andersen about being caught astride the great bronze horse at Copenhagen, and of the awful reprimand of the judge bewigged.
"And honestly now: I'll never tell," said Andersen with a sly twinkle in his blue eyes—"did you ever repeat the offense?"
"Since you promise not to divulge it, I'll confess that forty-three years after my crime of mounting that horse, I had occasion to cross King's Market Square at midnight. I had been out to a little social gathering, and was on my way home alone. I saw the great horse and rider gleaming in the pale moonlight. I recalled vividly how I had occupied that elevated perch and been hauled down by the scandalized and indignant officers. I remembered the warning of the judge as to what would happen if I ever did it again. Hastily I removed my coat and hat and clambered up on the pedestal. I seized a leg of the royal person, and swung up behind. For five minutes I sat there mentally defying the State, and saying unspeakable things about all gendarmes and Copenhagen gendarmes in particular."
I have a profound respect for boys. Grimy, ragged, tousled boys in the street often attract me strangely. A boy is a man in the cocoon —you do not know what it is going to become—his life is big with possibilities.
He may make or unmake kings, change boundary-lines between States, write books that will mold characters, or invent machines that will revolutionize the commerce of the world. Every man was a boy—I trust I shall not be contradicted—it is really so. Wouldn't you like to turn Time backward, and see Abraham Lincoln at twelve, when he had never worn a pair of boots?—the lank, lean, yellow, hungry boy—hungry for love, for learning, tramping off through the woods for twenty miles to borrow a book, and spelling it out crouching before the glare of the burning logs.
Then there was that Corsican boy, one of a goodly brood, who weighed only fifty pounds when ten years old; who was thin and pale and perverse, and had tantrums, and had to be sent supperless to bed, or locked in a dark closet because he wouldn't "mind"! Who would have thought that he would have mastered every phase of warfare at twenty-six, and when told that the Exchequer of France was in dire confusion, would say: "The finances? I will arrange them!"
Distinctly and vividly I remember a squat, freckled boy who was born in the "Patch" and used to pick up coal along the railroad-tracks in Buffalo. A few months ago I had a motion to make before the Court of Appeals. That boy from the "Patch" was the judge who wrote the opinion, granting my petition.
Yesterday I rode horseback past a field where a boy was plowing. The lad's hair stuck out through the top of his hat; one suspender held his trousers in place; his form was bony and awkward; his bare legs and arms were brown and sunburned and briar-scratched. He swung his horses around just as I passed by, and from under the flapping brim of his hat he cast a quick glance out of dark, half-bashful eyes, and modestly returned my salute. When his back was turned I took off my hat and sent a God-bless-you down the furrow after him.
Who knows?—I may go to that boy to borrow money or to hear him preach, or to beg him to defend me in a lawsuit; or he may stand with pulse unhastened, bare of arm, in white apron, ready to do his duty, while the cone is placed over my face, and Night and Death come creeping into my veins. Be patient with the boys—you are dealing with soul-stuff—Destiny awaits just around the corner. Be patient with the boys!
Bertel Thorwaldsen was fourteen years old. He was pale and slender, and had a sharp chin and a straight nose and hair the color of sunburned tow. His eyes were large, set wide apart and bright blue; and he looked out upon the world silently, with a sort o' wistful melancholy. He helped his father carve out the wonderful figureheads that were to pilot the ships across strange seas and bring good luck to the owners.
"A boy like that should be sent to the Academy and taught designing," said one of the shipowners one day as he watched the lad at his work. Gottschalk shook his head dubiously. "How could a poor man, with a family to support, and provisions so high, spare his boy from work! Aye, wasn't he teaching the lad a trade himself, as it was?"
But the shipowner fumbled his fob, and insisted, and to test the boy he had him work with his designers. And he compromised with the father by having Bertel sent to the Academy half a day at a time.
At the school one of the instructors remembered Bertel, on account of his long yellow hair that hung down in his eyes when he leaned over the desk; also his dulness in every line except drawing and clay-modeling. The newspapers one day announced that a certain young Master Thorwaldsen had been awarded a prize for clay-modeling.
"Is that your brother?" asked the teacher next day. "It is myself, Herr Chaplain," replied the boy, blushing to the roots of his yellow hair.
The Chaplain coughed to conceal his surprise. He had always thought this boy incapable of anything. "Herr Thorwaldsen," he said, severely, "you will please pass to the first grade!" And to be addressed as "Herr" meant that you really were somebody. "He called me 'Herr'!" said Bertel to his mother that night—"He called me 'Herr'!"
About this time we find the painter Abildgaard taking a special interest in young Bertel, giving him lessons in drawing and painting, and encouraging him in his modeling. In fact, Thorwaldsen has himself explained that all of his "original" designs about this time were supplied by Abildgaard. The interest of Abildgaard in the boy was slightly resented by the young man's parents, who were afraid that their son was getting above his station. Abildgaard has left a record to the effect that at this time Thorwaldsen was very self-contained, reticent, and seemingly without ambition. He used to postpone every task, and would often shirk his duties until sharp reminders came. Yet when he did begin, he would fall on the task like one possessed, and finish it in an hour. This proved to Abildgaard that the stuff was there, and down in his heart he believed that this sleepy lad would some day awake from slumber.
Anyway, Abildgaard used to say, long years after, "What did I tell you?" Gottschalk was paid by the piece for his carving; he was getting better pay now, because he did better work, his employer thought. Bertel was helping him. The family was getting quite prosperous.
When Bertel had secured, between sleepy spells, about all the prizes for clay-modeling and sketching that artistic Copenhagen had to offer, he started for Rome, armed with a three-year traveling scholarship. This prize proved to be a pivotal point. The young man had done good work, and seemingly without effort; but he was sadly lacking in general education—and worse, he apparently had no desire to learn.
He was twenty-six years of age when he sailed for Rome on the good ship "Thetis." The scholarship he had won four years before, but through disinclination to press his claims, and the procrastination of officialism, the matter was pigeonholed. It might have gone by default had not Abildgaard said "Go!" and loudly.
Thorwaldsen was a sort of charity passenger on the ship—taken on request of the owner—and it was assumed that he would make himself useful. But the captain of the craft left him a recommendation to the effect that "The young fellow Thorwaldsen is the laziest man I ever saw." The ship was on a trading tour, and lingered along various coasts and put into many harbors; so nine months went by before Bertel Thorwaldsen found himself in the Eternal City.
"I was born March Eighth, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-seven," Thorwaldsen used to say. That was the day he reached Rome. Antonio Canova, the sculptor, was then at the height of his popularity. Thorwaldsen's first success was the model for a statue of Jason, which was highly praised by Canova, and Bertel received the commission to execute it in marble from Thomas Hope, a wealthy English art patron. From this time forth, Thorwaldsen's success was assured.
His scholarship provided only for three years' residence; but twenty-three years were to elapse before he should again see his childhood's home—as for his parents, he had looked into their eyes for the last time.
The soul grows by leaps and bounds, by throes and throbs. A flash! and a glory stands revealed for which you have been groping blindly through the years. Well did Thorwaldsen call the day of his arrival in Rome the day of his birth! For the first time the world seemed to unfold before him. On the voyage thither, the captain of the "Thetis" had offered to prepare him for his stay in Rome by teaching him the Italian language; but the young sculptor was indifferent. During the months he was on shipboard, he might have mastered the language; this came back to him as he stood in the presence of Saint Peter's, and realized that he was treading the streets once trod by Michelangelo. He spoke only "Sailor's Latin," a composite of Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic. The waste of time of which he had been guilty, and the extent of all that lay beyond, pressed home upon him.
Of course we know that the fallow years are as good as the years of plenty; the silent Winter prepares the soil for Spring; and we know, too, that the sense of unworthiness and the discontent that Thorwaldsen felt during his first few weeks at Rome were big with promise.
The antique world was a new world to him; he knew nothing of mythology, nothing of history, little of books. He began to thirst for knowledge, and this being true, he drank it in. Little men spell things out with sweat and lamp-smoke, but others there be who absorb in the mass, read by the page, and grow great by simply letting down their buckets.
This fair-haired descendant of a Viking bold had the usual preliminary struggle, for the Established Order is always resentful toward pressing youth. He worked incessantly: sketched, read, studied, modeled, and to help out his finances copied pictures for prosperous dealers who made it their business thus to employ 'prentice talent.
But a few years and we see Thorwaldsen occupying the studio of Flaxman, and more than filling that strong man's place. For specimens of Flaxman's work examine your "Wedgwood"; and then to see Thorwaldsen's product, multiply Flaxman by one hundred. One worked in the delicate and exquisite; the other had a taste for the heroic: both found inspiration in the Greek.
It will not do to claim for Thorwaldsen that he was a great and original genius. He lacked that hirsute, independent quality of Michelangelo, and surely he lacked the Attic invention. He was receptive as a woman, and he builded on what had been done. He moved in the line of least resistance—made friends of Protestant and Catholic alike; won the warm recognition of the Pope, who averred, "Thorwaldsen is a good Catholic, only he does not know it." He kept clear of all factions, and with a modicum more of will, might have been a very prince of diplomats. But as it was, he evolved into a prince of artists.
Soon after his advent in Rome, Thorwaldsen met, at the country-house of his friend, critic and benefactor Zoega, a young woman who was destined to have a profound influence upon his life. Anna Maria Magnani was lady's maid and governess in the Zoega household. She was a beautiful animal: dark, luminous, flashing eyes, hair black as the raven's wing, and a form that palpitated with passion—a true daughter of the warm, sun-kissed South.
The young sculptor of the yellow locks danced with the signorina at the rustic fetes upon the lawn. She spoke no Danish, and his Italian was exceedingly limited, but hand pressed hand and they contrived to make themselves understood. She volunteered to give him lessons in Italian; this went well, and then she posed for him as a model.
What should have been at best or worst a mere incident in the artist's life ripened into something more. Intellectually and spiritually they lived in different worlds, and in sober moments both realized it. An arrangement was entered into of the same quality and kind as Goethe and Christine Vulpius assumed. Only this woman had moments of rebellion when she thirsted for social honors. As his wife, Thorwaldsen knew that she would be a veritable dead- weight, and he sought to loosen her grasp upon him. An offer of marriage came to her from a man of means and social station. Thorwaldsen favored the mating, and did what he could to hasten the nuptials. But when the other man had actually married the girl and carried her away, he had a sick spell to pay for it—he wasn't quite so calloused in heart as he had believed. Like many other men, Thorwaldsen found that such a tie is not easily broken.
Anna Maria thought she loved the man she had married, and at least she believed she could learn to do so. Alas! after six months of married life she packed up and came back to Rome, declaring that, though her husband was kind and always treated her well, she would rather be the slave and servant of Thorwaldsen than the wife of any man on earth. The sculptor hadn't the heart to turn her away. More properly, her will was stronger than his conscience. Perhaps he was glad, too, that she had come back! The injured husband followed, and Anna Maria warned the man to be gone, and emphasized the suggestion with the gleam of a pearl-handled stiletto; and by the same token kept all gushing females away from the Thorwaldsen preserve.
Thorwaldsen never married, and there is no doubt that his engagement to Miss Mackenzie, a most excellent English lady, was vetoed by Anna Maria and her pearl-handled stiletto.
One child was born to Anna Maria and Thorwaldsen—a girl, who was legally acknowledged by Thorwaldsen as his daughter. When prosperity came his way some years later, he deposited in the Bank of Copenhagen a sum equal to twenty thousand dollars, with orders that the interest should be paid to her as long as she lived.
Unlike Byron's daughter Allegra, born the same year only a few miles away, who died young and for whose grave at Harrow the poet had carved the touching line, "I shall go to her, but she will not return to me," the daughter of Thorwaldsen grew up, was happily married and bore a son who achieved considerable distinction as an artist. Thus the sculptor's good fortune attended him, even in circumstances that work havoc in most men's lives—he disarmed the Furies with a smile!
Many visitors daily thronged the studio of Thorwaldsen. He had one general reception-room containing casts of his work, and many curious things in the line of art. His servant greeted the callers and made them at home, expressing much regret at the absence of his master, who was "out of the city," etc. Meanwhile, Thorwaldsen was hard at it in a back room, to which only the elect were admitted. The King of Bavaria, a genuine artist himself in spirit, who spent much time in Rome, conceived a great admiration for Thorwaldsen. He walked into the atelier where the sculptor was at work one day and hung around his neck by a gold chain the "Cross of the Commander," a decoration never before given to any but great military commanders.
King Louis had a very unkinglike way of doing things, and used to go by the studio and whistle for Thorwaldsen and call to him to come out and walk, or drive, ride or dine.
"I wish that King would go off and reign—I have work to do," cried the sculptor rather impatiently.
Envious critics used to maintain that there were ten men in Rome who could model as well as Thorwaldsen, "but they haven't yellow hair that falls to their shoulders, and heaven-blue eyes with which to snare the ladies."
The fact must be admitted that the vogue of Thorwaldsen owed much to the remarkable social qualities of the man. His handsome face and fine form were supplemented by a manner most gentle and winning; and whether his half-diffident ways and habit of reticence were natural or the triumph of art was a vexing problem that never found solution.
He was the social rage in every salon. And his ability to do the right thing at the right time, seemingly without premeditation, made him a general favorite. For instance, if he attended a fete given by the King of Bavaria, he wore just one decoration—the decoration of Bavaria. If he attended a ball given by the French Ambassador, in the lapel of his modest black velvet coat he wore the red ribbon that tokens the Legion of Honor. When he visited the Villa of the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia, he wore no jewel save the diamond- studded star presented to him by the Czar. At the reception given by the "English Colony" to Sir Walter Scott, the great sculptor wore a modest thistle-blossom in his lapel, which caused Lord Elgin to offer odds that if O'Connell should appear in Rome, Thorwaldsen would wear a sprig of shamrock in his hat and say nothing. The thistle caught Sir Walter, and the next day when he came to call on the sculptor he saw a tam-o-shanter hanging on the top of an easel and a bit of plaid scarf thrown carelessly across the corner of the picture below. The poet and the sculptor embraced, patting each other on the back, called each other "Brother" and smiled good-will. But as Thorwaldsen could not speak English and Sir Walter spoke nothing else, they merely beamed and ran the scale of adjectives, thus: Sublimissio! Hero! Precious! Plaisir! La Grande! Delighted! Splendide! Honorable! Then they embraced again and backed away, waving each other good-by.
Thorwaldsen had more medals, degrees and knighthoods than Sir Walter ever saw, but he would allow no prefix to his name. Denmark, Russia, Germany, Italy, France and the Pope had outdone themselves in doing him honor. All these "trifles" in the way of decorations he kept in a specially prepared case, which was opened occasionally for the benefit of lady visitors. "The girls like such things," said Thorwaldsen, and smiled in apology.
Shelley found his way to Thorwaldsen's studio, and made mention that the Master was a bit of a poseur. Byron came, and as we know, sat for that statue which is now at Cambridge. The artist sought to beguile the melancholy sitter with pleasant conversation, but the author of "Don Juan" would have none of it, and when the work was completed and unveiled before him, he exclaimed in disappointment, "I look far more unhappy than that!"
Thorwaldsen was a musician of no mean quality, and there was always a piano in his studio, to which he often turned for rest. When Felix Mendelssohn was in Rome he made the sculptor's workshop his headquarters, and sometimes the two would play "four hands," or else Thorwaldsen would accompany the "Song Without Words" upon his violin.
Gradually the number of the "elect" seemed to grow. It was regarded as a great sight to see the Master at his work. And by degrees Thorwaldsen reached a point where he could keep right along at his task and receive his friends at the same time.
The man at his work! There is nothing finer. I have seen men homely, uncouth and awkward when "dressed up," who were superb when at their work. Once I saw Augustus Saint Gaudens in blouse and overalls, well plastered with mud, standing on a ladder hard at it on an equestrian statue, lost to everything but the task in hand—intoxicated with a thought, working like mad to materialize an idea. The sight gave me a thrill!—one of those very few unforgetable thrills that Time fixes ever the more firmly in one's memory.
To gain admittance to the workroom of Thorwaldsen was a thing to boast of: proud ladies schemed and some sought to bribe the trusty valet; but to these the door was politely barred. Yet the servant, servantlike, was awed by titles and nobility.
"The Duchess of Parma!" whispered the valet one day in agitation— "the Duchess of Parma—she has followed me in and is now standing behind you!"
Thorwaldsen could not just place the lady: he turned, bowed, and gazed upon a stout personage who was slightly overdressed. The lady quite abruptly stated that she had called to make arrangements to have a statue, or a bust at least, made of herself. That Thorwaldsen would be proud to model her features seemed quite fixed in her mind. The artist cast her a swift glance and noted that Nature had put small trace of the classic in the lady's modeling. He mentally declined the commission, and muttered something about being "so delighted and honored, but unluckily I am so very busy," etc. "My husband desires it," continued the lady, "and so does my son, the King of Rome—a title, I hope, that is not strange to you!"
It swept over Thorwaldsen, like a winter's wave, that this big, brusk, bizarre woman before him was Maria Louisa, the second wife of Napoleon. He knew her history: wedded at nineteen to Napoleon—the mother of L'Aiglon at twenty—married again in unbecoming haste to Count Niepperg Nobody, with whom she had been on very intimate terms, as soon as word arrived of Napoleon's death at Saint Helena, and now raising a goodly brood of Nobodies! The artist grew faint before this daughter of kings who had made a mesalliance with Genius—he excused himself and left the room.
Thorwaldsen was a hero-worshiper by nature, and Napoleon's memory loomed large to him on the horizon of the ideal. Needless to say, he never modeled the features of Maria Louisa Hapsburg, but her visit fired him with a desire to make a bust of Napoleon, and the desire materialized is ours in heroic mold.
Some time after this, Thorwaldsen designed a monument to the Duke of Leuchtenberg, Eugene de Beauharnais, son of the Empress Josephine.
The days went in their fashion, and the Count Niepperg passed away, as even Counts do, for Death recognizes no title; and Maria Louisa was again experiencing the pangs of widowhood. She sent word for Thorwaldsen to come and design the late lamented a proper tomb, something not unlike that which he had done for the son of Josephine—money was no object in the Hapsburg family!
Very few commissions were declined by Thorwaldsen. He was a good businessman and often had a dozen men quietly working out his orders, but he wrote to Maria Louisa begging to be excused—and as a relief to his feelings, straightway modeled another bust of Napoleon. This bust was sold to Alexander Murray, Byron's publisher, and is now to be seen in Edinburgh. Strange, is it not, that the home of "The Scotch Greys," tumbled by Fate and Napoleon into an open grave, should do the Little Man honor! And Thorwaldsen, the man of peace, was bound to the man of war by the silken thread of sentiment.
Thorwaldsen was the true successor of Canova—his career was inaugurated when Canova gave him his blessing. The triumphs of the lover of Pauline Bonaparte were transferred to him. He accepted the situation with all of its precedents.
Thorwaldsen spent forty-two years of his life at Rome, but Denmark never lost her hold upon him during this time. The King showered him with honors and gave him every privilege at his command.
The Danish Ambassador always had special instructions "not to neglect the interests and welfare of our brother, Chevalier Thorwaldsen, Artist and Sculptor to the King."
For years, in the Academy at Copenhagen, rooms were set apart for him, and he was solicited to return and occupy them, and by his gracious presence honor the institution that had sent him forth. Only once, however, did he return, and then his stay was brief. But from time to time he presented specimens of his work to his native city, and various casts and copies of his pieces found their way to the "Thorwaldsen Room" at the Academy; so there gradually grew up there a "Thorwaldsen Museum."
Now the shadows were lengthening toward the east. The Master had turned his seventieth milestone, and he began to look backward to his boyhood's home as a place of rest, as old men do. A Commissioner was sent by the King of Denmark with orders to use his best offices to the end that Thorwaldsen should return; and plans were made to evolve the Thorwaldsen Room into a complete museum.
The result of these negotiations brought about the Thorwaldsen Museum—that plainly simple, but solidly built structure at Copenhagen, erected by the city, from plans made by the Master. Here are shown over two hundred large statues and bas-reliefs, copies and originals of the best things done in that long and busy life.
Thorwaldsen left his medals, decorations, pictures, books and thousands of drawings and sketches to this Museum—the sole property of the municipality. The building is arranged in the form of a square, with a court, and here the dust of the Master rests. No artist has ever had a more fitting tomb, designed by himself, surrounded by the creations of his hand and brain. These chant his elegy and there he sleeps.
Good looks, courtesy and social accomplishments are factors in our artistic career that should not be lightly waived. Thorwaldsen won every recognition that is possible for men to win from other men— fame, honor, wealth. In way of success he tasted all the world can offer. He built on Winckelmann, Mengs and Canova, inspired by a classic environment, and examples of work done by men turned to dust centuries before. In many instances Thorwaldsen followed the letter and failed to catch the spirit of Greece; this is not to his discredit—who has completely succeeded in revitalizing the breath of ancient art?
Thorwaldsen won everything but immortality. It sounds harsh, but let us admit it; he was at best a great imitator, however noble the objects of his imitation. A recent writer has tried to put him in the class with "John Rogers, the Pride of America," but this is manifestly unfair. As an artist he ranks rather with Powers, Story and Palmer.
Never for a moment can he be compared with Saint Gaudens, or our own French; Bartlett and Ward surpass him in general skill and fertility of resources. All is comparative—Thorwaldsen's fame floats upon the wave, far astern. We are making head.
We have that superb "Night," so full of tenderness and spirit, done in tears (as all the best things are). The "Night" is not to be spoken of without its beautiful companion-piece, the "Morning." Each was done at a sitting, in a passion of creative energy. Yet when the roll of all Thorwaldsen's pieces is called, we see that his fame centers and is chiefly embodied in "The Lion of Lucerne."
I suppose it need not longer be concealed that in Switzerland you can purchase copies and models of Thorwaldsen's "Lion of Lucerne." Some are in marble, some in granite, some in bronze, a great many are in wood—carved while you wait—and at my hotel in Lucerne we used to have the noble beast on the table every morning at breakfast, done in butter.
The reproductions are of all sizes, from heroic mold to watch-charms and bangles. Sculptors have carved this lion, painters have painted it, artists have sketched it, but did you ever see a reproduction of "The Lion of Lucerne"? No, dearie, you never did, and never will. No copy has a trace of that indefinable look of mingled pain and patience, which even the broken spear in his side can not disturb— that soulful, human quality which the original has. No; every copy is a caricature. It is a risky thing to try to put love in a lion's face!
An intelligent young woman called my attention to the fact that the psychological conditions under which we view "The Lion" are the most subtle and complete that man can devise; and these are the things that add the last touch to art and cause us to stand speechless, and which make the unbidden tears start. The little lake at the foot of the cliff prevents a too near approach; the overhanging vines and melancholy boughs form a dim, subduing shade; the falling water seems like the playing of an organ in a vast cathedral; and last, the position of the lion itself, against the solid cliff, partakes of the miraculous. It is not set up there for people to look at: it is a part of the mountain, and the great seams of the strata running through the figure lend the spirit of miracle to it all. It seems as though God Himself had done the work, and the surprise and joy of discovery are ours as we stand uncovered before it.
One must concede the masterly framing and hanging of the picture, but beyond all this is the technical skill, giving the look of woe that does not tell of weakness, as woe usually does, but strength and loyalty and death without flinching in a righteous cause: symbolic of the Swiss Guard that died at their post, not one of the three hundred wavering, there at the King's palace at Paris—all dead and turned to dust a century past, and this lion, mortally wounded, mutely pleading for our tears!
We pay the tribute.
And the reason we are moved is because we partake of the emotions of the artist when he did the work; and the reason we are not moved by any models or copies or imitations is because there is small feeling in the heart of an imitator. Great art is born of feeling! In order to do, you must feel.
If Thorwaldsen had done nothing else, "The Lion" would be monument enough. We remember William Cullen Bryant, like Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for one poem; Poe for three. Thoreau wrote only one essay the world will cherish; and "keeping Ruskin's 'Sesame and Lilies' and 'The Golden River,' we can let the rest go," says Augustine Birrell.
Thorwaldsen paid the penalty of success. He should have tasted exile, poverty and heartbreak—not to have known these was his misfortune. And perhaps his best work lay in keeping alive the classic tradition; in educating whole nations to a taste for sculpture; in turning the attention of society from strife to art, from war to harmony. His were the serene successes of beauty, the triumphs of peace.
If ever this nation should produce a genius sufficient to acquire to us the honorable distinction of an English School, the name of Gainsborough will be transmitted to posterity, in this history of art, among the very first of that rising name. —Sir Joshua Reynolds
Most biographies are written with intent either to make the man a demigod or else to damn him as a rogue who has hoodwinked the world. Of the first-mentioned class, Weems' "Life of Washington" must ever stand as the true type. The author is so fearful that he will not think well of his subject that he conceals every attribute of our common humanity, and gives us a being almost devoid of eyes, ears, organs, dimensions, passions. Next to Weems, in point of literary atrocity, comes John S. C. Abbott, whose life of Napoleon is a splendid concealment of the man.
Of those who have written biographies for the sake of belittling their subject, John Gait's "Life of Byron" occupies a conspicuous position. But for books written for the double purpose of downing the subject and elevating the author, Philip Thicknesse's "Life of Gainsborough" must stand first. The book is so bad that it is interesting, and so stupid that it will never die. Thicknesse had a quarrel with Gainsborough, and three-fourths of the volume is given up to a minute recital of "says he" and "says I." It is really only an extended pamphlet written by an arch-bore with intent to get even with his man.
The writer regards his petty affairs as of prime importance to the world, and he shows with great care, and not a single flash of wit, how all of Thomas Gainsborough's success in life was brought about by Thicknesse. And then, behold! after Thicknesse had made the man by hand, all he received for pay was ingratitude and insolence! Thicknesse was always good, kind, unselfish and disinterested; while Gainsborough was ungrateful, procrastinating, absurd and malicious— this according to Thicknesse, who was on the spot and knew. Well, I guess so!
Brock-Arnold describes Thicknesse as "a fussy, ostentatious, irrepressible busybody, without the faintest conception of delicacy or modesty, who seems to think he has a heaven-born right to patronize Gainsborough, and to take charge of his affairs."
The aristocratic and pompous Thicknesse presented the painter to his friends, and also gave much advice about how he should conduct himself. He also loaned him a fiddle and presented him a viola da gamba, and often invited him to dinner. For these favors Gainsborough promised to paint a portrait of Thicknesse, but never got beyond washing in the background. During ten years he made thirty-seven excuses for not doing the work, and as for Mrs. Gainsborough, she once had the temerity to hand the redoubtable Thicknesse his cocked hat and cane and show him the door. From this, Thicknesse is emboldened to make certain remarks about Mrs. Gainsborough's pedigree, and to suggest that if Thomas Gainsborough had married a different woman he might have been a different painter. Thicknesse, throughout the book, thrusts himself into the breach and poses as the Injured One.
On reading "the work" it is hard to believe it was written in sober, serious earnest—it contains such an intolerable deal of Thicknesse and so little of Gainsborough. The Mother Gamp flavor is upon every page. Andrew Lang might have written it to show the literary style of a disgruntled dead author.
And the curious part is that, up to Eighteen Hundred Twenty-nine, Thicknesse held the stage, and many people took his portrait of Gainsborough as authentic. In that year Allan Cunningham put the great painter in his proper light, and thanks to the minute researches of Fulcher and others, we know the man as though he had lived yesterday.
The father of Gainsborough was a tradesman of acute instincts. He resided at Sudbury, in Suffolk, seventy miles from London. It was a time when every thrifty merchant lived over his place of business, so as to be on hand when buyers came; to ward off robbers; and to sweep the sidewalk, making all tidy before breakfast. Gainsborough pere was fairly prosperous, but not prosperous enough to support any of his nine children in idleness. They all worked, took a Saturday night "tub," and went to the Independent Church in decent attire on Sunday.
Thomas Gainsborough was the youngest of the brood, the pet of his parents, and the pride of his big sisters, who had nursed him and brought him up in the way he should go. In babyhood he wasn't so very strong; but love and freedom gradually did their perfect work, and he evolved into a tall, handsome youth of gracious manner and pleasing countenance. All the family were sure that Tom was going to be "somebody."
The eldest boy, John, known to the town as "Scheming Jack," had invented a cuckoo-clock, and this led to a self-rocking cradle that wound up with a strong spring; next he made a flying-machine; and so clever was he that he painted signs that swung on hinges, and in several instances essayed to put a picture of the prosperous owner on the sign.
The second son, Humphrey, was a brilliant fellow, too. He made the model of a steam-engine and showed it to a man by the name of Watt, who was greatly interested in it; and when Watt afterward took out a patent on it, Humphrey's heart was nearly broken, and it might have been quite, but he said he had in hand half a dozen things worth more than the steam-engine. As tangible proof of his power, he won a prize of fifty pounds from the London Society for the Encouragement of Art, for a mill that was to be turned by the tides of the sea. The steam-engine would require fuel, but this tide-engine would be turned by Nature at her own expense. In the British Museum is a sundial made by Humphrey Gainsborough, and it must stand to his credit that he made the original fireproof safe. From a fireproof safe to liberal theology is but a step, and Humphrey Gainsborough became a Dissenting Clergyman, passing rich on forty pounds a year.
The hopes of the family finally centered on Thomas. He had assisted his brother John at the sign-painting, and had done several creditable little things in drawing 'scutcheons on coach-doors for the gentry. Besides all this, once, while sketching in his father's orchard, a face cautiously appeared above the stone wall and for a single moment studied the situation. The boy caught the features on his palette, and transferred them to his picture. The likeness was so perfect that it led to the execution of the thief who had been robbing the orchard, and also the execution of that famous picture, finished many years after, known as "Tom Peartree."
The orchard episode pleased the Gainsboroughs greatly. A family council was held, and it was voted that Thomas must be sent to London to study art. The girls gave up a dress apiece, the mother retrimmed her summer bonnet for the Winter, the boys contributed, and there came a day when Tom was duly ticketed and placed on top of the great coach bound for London. Good-bys were waved until only a cloud of dust was seen in the distance.
Gainsborough went to "Saint Martin's Drawing Academy" at London, and the boys educated him. The art at the "Academy" seems to have been very much akin to the art of the Writing Academies of America, where learned bucolic professors used to teach us the mysteries of the Spencerian System for a modest stipend. The humiliation of never knowing "how to hold your pen" did much to send many budding geniuses off on a tangent after grasshopper chirography, but those who endured unto the end acquired the "wrist movement." They all wrote alike. That is to say, they all wrote like the professor, who wrote just like all Spencerian professors. So write the girls in Melvil Dewey's Academy for Librarians, at Albany—God bless them all!—they all write like Dewey.
Thomas Gainsborough at London seems to have haunted the theaters and coffeehouses, and whenever there were pictures displayed, there was Thomas to be found. To help out the expense-account, he worked at engraving and made designs for a silversmith. The strong, receptive nature of the boy showed itself, for he succeeded in getting a goodly hold on the art of engraving, in a very short time. He absorbed in the mass.
But he tired of the town—he wanted freedom, fresh air, the woods and fields. Hogarth and Wilson were there in London, but the Academy students never heard of them. And if Gainsborough ever listened to Richardson's famous prophecy which inspired Hogarth and Reynolds, to the effect that England would soon produce a great school of art, we do not know it.
The young man grew homesick; he was doing nothing in London—no career was open to him—he returned to Sudbury after an absence of nearly two years. He thought it was defeat, but his family welcomed him as a conquering hero. He was eighteen and looked twenty—tall, strong, fair-haired, gentle in manner, gracious in speech.
Two of his sisters had married clergymen, and were happily situated in neighboring towns; his brother Humphrey was "occupying the pulpit," and causing certain local High Churchmen to have dreams of things tumbling about their ears.
The sisters and mother wanted Tom to be a preacher, too—he was so straight and handsome and fine, and his eyes were so tender and blue!
But he preferred to paint. He painted in the woods and fields, by streams and old mills, and got on good terms with all the flocks of sheep and cattle in the neighborhood.
The art of landscape-painting developed from an accident. The early Italian painters used landscape only as a background for figures. All they pictured were men, women and children, and to bring these out rightly they introduced scenery. Imagine a theater with scenes set and no person on the stage, and you get the idea of landscape up to the time of Gainsborough. Landscape! it was nothing—a blank.
Wilson first painted landscapes as backgrounds for other men to draw portraits upon. A marine scene was made merely that a Commodore might stand in cocked hat, a spyglass under his arm, in the foreground, while the sun peeps over the horizon begging permission to come up. Gradually these incomplete pictures were seen hanging in shop-windows, but for them there was no market. They were merely curios.
Gainsborough drew pictures of the landscape because he loved it. He seems to be the first English artist who loved the country for its own sake. Old bridges, winding roadways, gnarled oaks, cattle grazing, and all the manifold beauties of quiet country life fascinated him. He educated the collector, and educated the people into a closer observation and study of Nature. Gainsborough stood at the crossways of progress and pointed the way.
With Hogarth's idea that a picture should teach a lesson and have a moral, he had no sympathy. And with Reynolds, who thought there was nothing worth picturing but the human face, he took issue. Beauty to him was its own excuse for being. However, in all of Gainsborough's landscapes you find the human interest somewhere—man has not been entirely left out. But from being the one important thing, he sinks simply into a part of the view that lies before you. Turner's maxim, "You can not leave man out," he annexed from Gainsborough. And Corot's landscapes, where the dim, shadowy lovers sit on the bankside under the great oaks—the most lovely pictures ever painted by the hand of man—reveal the extreme evolution from a time when the lovers occupied the center of the stage, and the landscape was only an accessory.
And it is further interesting to note that the originator of English landscape-painting was also a great portrait-painter, and yet he dared paint portraits with absolutely no scenery back of them—a thing which up to that time was done only by a man who hadn't the ability to paint landscape. Thus do we prove Rabelais' proposition, "The man who has a well-filled strongbox can surely afford to go ragged."
Thomas Gainsborough, aged nineteen, was one day intently sketching in a wood near Sudbury, when the branches suddenly parted and out into a little open space stepped Margaret Burr. This young woman had taken up her abode in Sudbury during the time the young man was in London, and he had never met her, although he had probably heard her praises sounded. Everybody around there had heard of her. She was the handsomest woman in all Suffolk—and knew it. She lived with her "uncle," and the gossips, who looked after these little things, divided as to whether she was the daughter of one of the exiled Stuarts, or the natural child of the Duke of Bedford. Anyway, she was a true princess, in face, form and bearing, and had an income of her own of two hundred pounds a year. Her pride was a thing so potent that the rustic swains were chilled at the sight of her, and the numerous suitors sighed and shot their lovesick glances from a safe distance.
Let that pass: the branches parted and Margaret stepped out into the open. She thought she was alone, when all at once her eyes looked full into the eyes of the young artist—not a hundred feet away. She was startled; she blushed, stammered and tried to apologize for the intrusion. Her splendid self-possession had failed her for once—she was going to flee by the way she had come. "Hold that position, please—stand just as you are!" called the artist in a tone of authority.
Even the proudest of women are willing to accept orders when the time is ripe; and I am fully convinced that to be domineered over by the right man is a thing all good women warmly desire.
Margaret Burr, the proud beauty, stood stock-still, and Thomas Gainsborough admitted her into his landscape and his heart.
This is not a love-story, or we might begin here and extend our booklet into a volume. Suffice it to say that within a few short months after their first meeting the young woman, being of royal blood, exercised her divine right and "proposed." She proposed just as Queen Victoria did later. And then they were married—both under twenty—and lived happily ever after.
It is a great mistake to assume that pride and a high degree of commonsense can not go together. Margaret knew how to manage. After a short stay in Sudbury the couple rented a cottage at Ipswich for six pounds a year—a dovecot with three rooms. The proud beauty would not let the place be profaned by a servant: she did all the work herself; and if she wanted help, she called on her husband. Base is the man who will not fetch and carry for the woman he loves. They were accounted the handsomest and most distinguished couple in all Sudbury; and when they attended church, there was so much craning of necks and so many muffled exclamations of admiration, that the clergyman made it a point not to begin the service until they were safely seated.
They were very happy: they loved each other, and so loved life and everything and everybody, and God's great green out-o'-doors was their playhouse. Margaret's income was quite sufficient for their needs, and mad ambition passed them by. Gainsborough drew pictures and painted and sketched, and then gave his pictures away.
Music was his passion, and whenever at the concerts held round about there the player did exceptionally well, Gainsborough would proffer a picture in exchange for the instrument used. In this way the odd corners of their house got filled with violins, lutes, hautboys, kettledrums and curious stringed things that have died the death and are now extinct. At this time, if any one had asked Gainsborough his profession, he would have said, "I am a musician."
Fifteen years had slipped into the eternity that lies behind—"years not lost, for we can turn the hourglass and live them all over in sweet memory," once said Gainsborough to his wife. The constant sketching had developed much skill in the artist's hand. Thicknesse had come puffing alongside, and insisted out of pure friendliness on taking the artist and wife in tow. They laughed at him behind his back, and carried on conversation over his head, and dropped jokes at his feet by looks and pantomime, and communicated in cipher—for true lovers always evolve a code.
Thicknesse was sincere and serious, and surely was not wholly bad— even Mephisto is not bad all of the time. Mrs. Gainsborough once said she would prefer Mephisto to Thicknesse, because Mephisto had a sense of humor. Very often they naturally referred to Thicknesse as "Thickhead"—the joke was too obvious to let pass entirely, until each "took the pledge," witnessed by Gainsborough's favorite terrier, "Fox."
Thicknesse had a Summer House at Bath, and thither he insisted his friends should go. He would vouch for them and introduce them into the best society. He would even introduce them to Beau Nash, "the King of Bath," and arrange to have Gainsborough do himself the honor of painting the "King's" picture. Two daughters nearing womanhood reminded Mr. and Mrs. Gainsborough that an increase in income would be well; and Thicknesse promised many commissions from his friends, the gentry.
The cheapest house they could find in Bath was fifty pounds a year. "Do you want to go to jail?" asked Mrs. Gainsborough of her husband when he proposed signing the lease. The worldly Thicknesse proposed that they should take this house at fifty pounds a year, or else take another at one hundred fifty at his expense. They decided to risk it at the rate of fifty pounds a year for a few months, and were duly settled.
Thicknesse was very proud of his art connections. He had but one theme—Gainsborough! People of note began to find their way to the studio of the painter-man in the Circus.
Gainsborough was gracious, handsome and healthy—fresh from the country. He met all nobility on a frank equality—God had made him a gentleman. His beautiful wife, now in her early thirties, was much sought in local society circles.
Everybody of note who came to Bath visited Gainsborough's studio.
Garrick sat to him and played such pranks with his countenance that each time the artist looked up from his easel he saw a new man. "You have everybody's face but your own," said Gainsborough to Garrick, and dismissing the man he completed the picture from memory. This portrait and also pictures of General Honeywood, the Comedian Quin, Lady Grosvenor, the Duke of Argyle, besides several landscapes, were sent up to the Academy Exhibition at London.
George the Third saw them and sent word down that he wished Gainsborough lived in London, so he could sit to him.
The carrier, Wiltshire, who packed the pictures and took them up to London, had a passion for art that filled his heart, and he refused to accept gold, that base and common drudge 'twixt man and man, for his services in an art way. And so Gainsborough presented him with a picture. In fact, during the term of years that Gainsborough lived at Bath, he gave Wiltshire, the modest driver of an express-cart, a dozen or more pictures and sketches. He gave him the finest picture he ever painted: that portrait of the old Parish Clerk. Gainsborough was not so good a judge of his own work as Wiltshire was. Wiltshire kept all the "Gainsboroughs" he could get, reveled in them during his long life, basked and bathed his soul in their beauty, and dying, bequeathed them to his children.
Had Wiltshire been moved by nothing but keen, cold, worldly wisdom— which he wasn't—he could not have done better. Even friendship, love and beauty have their Rialto—the appraiser footed up the Wiltshire estate at more than fifty thousand pounds.
Gainsborough found himself with more work than he could very well care for, so he raised his prices for a "half-length" from five pounds to forty; and for a "full-length" from ten pounds to one hundred, in order to limit the number of his patrons. It doubled them. His promised picture of Thicknesse was relegated behind the door, and a check was sent the great man for five hundred pounds for his borrowed viola da gamba and other favors.
But Thicknesse was not to be bought off. He took charge of the studio, looked after the visitors, explaining this and that, telling how he had discovered the artist and rescued him from obscurity, giving scraps of his history, and presenting little impromptu lectures on art as he had found it.
The fussy Thicknesse used to be funny to Mr. and Mrs. Gainsborough, but now he had developed into a nuisance. To escape him, they resolved to turn the pretty compliment of King George into a genuine request. They packed up and moved to London.
The fifty pounds a year at Bath had seemed a great responsibility, but when Gainsborough took Schomberg House in Pall Mall at three hundred pounds, he boasts of his bargain. About this time "Scheming Jack" turns up asking for a small loan to perfect a promising scheme. The gracious brother replies that although his own expenses are more than a thousand pounds a year, he is glad to accommodate him, and hopes the scheme will prosper—which of course he knew it would not, for success is a matter of red corpuscle.
Almost immediately on reaching London the Royal Academy recognized Gainsborough's presence by electing him a member of its Council. However, he never attended a single meeting. He did not need the Academy. Royalty stood in line at his studio-doors, and he took his pick of sitters. He painted five different portraits of the King, various pictures of his children, did the rascally heir-apparent ideally, and made a picture of Queen Charlotte that Goldsmith said "looked like a sensible woman."
He painted portraits of his lovely wife, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Burke, Walpole, the dictator of Strawberry Hill, and immortalized the hats worn by the smashing, dashing Duchess of Devonshire. One of these pictures of Her Grace comes very close to us Americans, as it was cut from the frame one dark, foggy night in London, sealed up in the false bottom of a trunk and brought to New York. Here it lay for more than twenty years, when Colonel Patricius Sheedy, connoisseur and critic, arranged for its delivery to the heirs of the original owners on payment of some such trifle as twenty-five thousand dollars. This superb picture, with its romantic past, was not destined to traverse the Atlantic again; for thanks to the generosity of J. Pierpont Morgan, it has now found a permanent home at Harvard College.
It is only a little way back from civilization to savagery. We live in a wonderful time: the last twenty-five years have seen changes that mark epochs in the onward and upward march. To mention but two, we might name the almost complete evolution of our definition as to what constitutes "Christianity"; and in material things, the use of electricity, which has worked such a revolution as even Jules Verne never conjured forth.
Americans are somewhat given to calling our country "The Land of the Free"—as if there were no other. But the individual in England today has greater freedom of speech and action than the individual has in America. In every large city of America there is an extent of petty officialism and dictation that the English people would not for a day endure. Our policemen, following their Donnybrook proclivities, are all armed with clubs, and allowing prenatal influences to lead, they unlimber the motto, "Wherever you see a head, hit it," on slight excuse. In Central Park, New York, for instance, the citizen who "talks back" would speedily be clubbed into silence—but try that thing in Hyde Park, London, if you please, and see what would follow! But, thank heaven, we are working out our salvation all the time—things are getting better, and it is the "dissatisfied" who are making them go. Were we satisfied, there would be no progress. During the sixty-one years of Gainsborough's life, wondrous changes were made in the world of thought and feeling. And the good natured but sturdy quality of such as he was the one strong factor that worked for freedom. Gainsborough was never a tuft-hunter: he toadied to no man, and his swinging independence refused to see any special difference between himself and the sleek, titled nobility. He asked no favors of the Academy, no quarter from his rivals, no grants from royalty. This dissenting attitude probably cost him the mate of the knighthood which went to Sir Joshua, but behold the paradox! he was usually closer to the throne than those who lay in wait for honors. Gainsborough sought for nothing—he did his work, preserved the right mental attitude, and all good things came to him.
It is a curious thing to note that while England was undergoing a renaissance of art, and realizing a burst of freedom, Italy, that land so long prolific in greatness, produced not a single artist who rose above the dull and commonplace. Has Nature only just so much genius at her disposal?
The reign of the Georges worked a blessed, bloodless revolution for the people of England. They reigned better than they knew. Gainsborough saw the power of the monarch transferred to the people, and the King become the wooden figurehead of the ship, instead of its Captain. So, thanks to the weakness of George the Third and the short-sighted policy of Lord North, America achieved her independence about the same time that England did hers.
Theological freedom and political freedom go hand in hand, for our conception of Deity is always a pale reflection of our chief ruler. Did not Thackeray say that the people of England regarded Jehovah as an infinite George the Fourth?
Gainsborough saw Whitefield and Wesley entreating that we should go to God direct; Howard was letting the sunshine into dark cells; Clarkson, Sharp and Wilberforce had begun their crusade against slavery, and their arms and arguments were to be transferred a hundred years later to William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Henry Ward Beecher, who bought "Beecher Bibles" for Old John Brown, Osawatomie Brown, whose body, no longer needed, was hanged on a sour-apple tree while his soul goes marching on.
In the realm of letters, Gainsborough saw changes occur no less important than in the political field. Samuel Johnson bowled into view, scolding and challenging the Ensconced Smug; Goldsmith scaled the Richardson ghetto and wrote his touching and deathless verse; Fielding's saffron comedies were produced at Drury Lane; Cowper, nearly the same age as the artist, did his work and lapsed into imbecility, surviving him sixteen years; Richardson became the happy father of the English Novel; Sterne took his Sentimental Journey; Chatterton, the meteor, flashed across the literary sky; Gray mused in the churchyard and laid his head upon the lap of earth; Burns was promoted from the Excise to be the idol of all Scotland. The year that Gainsborough died, Napoleon, a slim slip of a youth seventeen years old, was serving as a sub-lieutenant of artillery; while Wellington had just received his first commission and was marching zigzag, by the right oblique, to meet him eighteen miles from Brussels on the night of a ball sung into immortality by Byron; Watt had invented the steam-engine, thanks to Humphrey Gainsborough; Arkwright had made his first spinning-frame; Humphrey Davy was working at problems (with partial success) to be solved later by Edison of Menlo Park; Lord Hastings was tried, and it was while listening to the speech of Sheridan—the one speech of his life, the best words of which, according to his butler, were, "My Lords, I am done"—that Gainsborough caught his death o' cold.
Gainsborough never went abroad to study; he painted things at home, and painted as he saw them. He never imagined he was a great artist, so took no thought as to the future of his work. He set so little store on his pictures that he did not think even to sign them. The masterpiece that satisfied him was never done.
His was a happy life of work and love, with no cloud to obscure the sun, save possibly now and then a bumptious reproof from Sir Thicknesse or the occasional high-handed haughtiness of a Hanging Committee. Thus passed his life in work, music, laughter and love; but to music he ever turned for rest. He made more money than all of his seven brothers and sisters combined, five times over, and divided with them without stint. He educated several of his nieces and nephews, and one nephew, Gainsborough Dupont, he adopted and helped make an acceptable artist.
Of that peculiarly-to-be-dreaded malady, artistic jealousy, Gainsborough had not a trace. His failure to court Sir Joshua's smile led foolish folks to say he was jealous—not so! he was simply able to get along without Sir Joshua, and he did. Yet he admired Reynolds' works and admired the man, but was too wise to force any close personal relationship.
He divided with West, the American, the favor of the Court, and with Romney and Reynolds the favor of the town. He got his share, and more, of all those things which the world counts worth while. The gratitude of his heart was expressed by his life—generous, kind, joyous—never cast down except when he thought he had spoken harshly or acted unwisely-loyal to his friends, forgetting his enemies.
He did a deathless work, for it is a work upon which other men have built. He prepared the way for those who were to come after.
It is a great privilege to live, to work, to feel, to endure, to know: to realize that one is the instrument of Deity—being used by the Maker to work out His inscrutable purposes; to see vast changes occur in the social fabric and to know that men stop, pause and consider: to comprehend that this world is a different place because you have lived. Yes, it is a great privilege to live! Gainsborough lived—he reveled in life, and filled his days to their brim, ever and always grateful to the Unknown that had guided his hand and led him forth upon his way.
It is a great privilege to live!
Among the notable prophets of the new and true—Rubens, Rembrandt, Claude Lorraine—Velasquez was the newest and certainly the truest from our point of view. He showed us the mystery of light as God made it. —Stevenson
There be, among writing men, those who please the populace, and also that Elect Few who inspire writers. When Horace Greeley gave his daily message to the world, every editor of any power in America paid good money for the privilege of being a subscriber to the "Tribune." The "Tribune" had no exchange-list—if you wanted the "Tribune" you had to buy it, and the writers bought it because it wound up their clocks—set them agoing—and they either carefully abstained from mentioning Greeley or else went in right valiantly and exposed his vagaries.
Greeley may have been often right, and we now know he was often wrong, but he infused the breath of life into his words—his sentences were a challenge—he made men think. And the reason he made men think was because he himself was a thinker.
Among modern literary men, the two English writers who have most inspired writers are Carlyle and Emerson. They were writers' writers. In the course of their work, they touched upon every phase of man's experience and endeavor. You can not open their books anywhere and read a page without casting about for your pencil and pad. Strong men infuse into their work a deal of their own spirit, and their words are charged with a suggestion and meaning beyond the mere sound. There is a reverberation that thrills one. All art that lives is thus vitalized with a spiritual essence: an essence that ever escapes the analyst, but which is felt and known by all who have hearts that throb and souls that feel.
Strong men make room for strong men. Emerson and Carlyle inspired other men, and they inspired each other—but whether there be warrant for that overworked reference to their "friendship" is a question. Some other word surely ought to apply here, for their relationship was largely a matter of the head, with a weather-eye on Barabbas, and three thousand miles of very salt brine between them. Carlyle never came to America: Emerson made three trips to England; and often a year or more passed without a single letter on either side. Tammas Carlyle, son of a stone-mason, with his crusty ways and clay pipe, with personality plus, at close range would have been a combination not entirely congenial to the culminating flower of seven generations of New England clergymen—probably not more so than was the shirt-sleeved and cravatless Walt, when they met that memorable day by appointment at the Astor House.
Our first and last demand of Art is that it shall give us the artist's best. Art is the mintage of the soul. All the whim, foible, and rank personality are blown away on the winds of time—the good remains.
Of artists who have inspired artists, and who being dead yet live, Velasquez stands first.
"Velasquez was a painters' painter—the rest of us are only painters." And when the man who painted "Symphonies in White" further explained that a picture is finished when all traces of the means used to bring about the end have disappeared—for work alone will efface the footsteps of work—he had Velasquez in mind.
The subject of this sketch was born in the year Fifteen Hundred Ninety-nine, and died in Sixteen Hundred Sixty. And while he lived there also lived these: Shakespeare, Murillo, Cervantes, Rembrandt and Rubens.
As an artist and a man Velasquez was the equal, in his way, of any of the men just named. Ruskin has said, "Everything that Velasquez does may be regarded as absolutely right." And Sir Joshua Reynolds placed himself on record by saying, "The portrait of Pope Innocent the Tenth by Velasquez, in the Doria Gallery, is the finest portrait in all Rome." Yet until the year Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, a date Americans can easily remember, the work of Velasquez was scarcely known outside of Spain. In that year Raphael Mengs wrote: "How this painter, greater than Raphael or Titian, truer far than Rubens or Van Dyck, should have been lost to view is more than I can comprehend. I can not find words to describe the splendor of his art!"
But enthusiasts who ebulliate at low temperature are plentiful. The world wagged on in its sleepy way, and it was not until Eighteen Hundred Twenty-eight that an Englishman, Sir David Wilkie, following up the clue of Mengs, began quietly to buy up all the stray pictures by Velasquez he could find in Spain. He sent them to England, and the world one day awoke to the fact that Velasquez was one of the greatest artists of all time. Curtis compiled a list of two hundred seventy-four pictures by Velasquez, which he pronounces authentic. Of these, one hundred twenty-one were owned in England, thirteen in France, twelve in Austria and eight in Italy. At least fifteen of the English 'oldings have since been transferred to America; so, outside of England and Spain, America possesses more of the works of this master than any other country. But of this be sure: no "Velasquez" will ever leave Spain unless spirited out of the country between two days—and if one is carried away, it will not be in the false bottom of a trunk. Within a year one "Velasquez" was so found secreted at Cadiz, and the owner escaped prison only by presenting the picture, with his compliments, to the Prado Museum at Madrid. The release of the prisoner, and the acceptance of the picture, were both a bit irregular as a matter of jurisprudence; but I am told that lawyers can usually arrange these little matters—Dame Justice being blind in one eye.
There seems to have been some little discussion in the De Silva family of Seville as to whether Diego should be a lawyer, and follow in his father's footsteps, or become an artist and possibly a vagrom. The father had hoped the boy would be his helper and successor, and here the youngster was wasting his time drawing pictures of water-jugs, baskets of flowers, old women and foolish folk about the market!
Should it be the law-school or the studio of Herrera the painter?
To almost every fond father the idea of discipline is to have the child act just as he does. But in this case the mother had her way, or, more properly, she let the boy have his—as mothers do—and the sequel shows that a woman's heart is sometimes nearer right than a man's head.
The fact that "Velasquez" was the maiden name of his mother, and was adopted by the young man, is a straw that tells which way the vane of his affections turned. Diego was sixteen and troublesome. He wasn't "bad"—only he had a rollicksome, flamboyant energy that inundated everything, and made his absence often a blessing devoutly to be wished. Herrera had fixed thoughts about art and deportment. Diego failed to grasp the beauty and force of these ideas, and in the course of a year he seems to have learned just one thing of Herrera—to use brushes with very long handles and long bristles. This peculiarity he clung to through life, and the way he floated the color upon the canvas with those long, ungainly brushes, no one understood; he really didn't know himself, and the world has long since given up the riddle. But the scheme was Herrera's, improved upon by Velasquez; yet not all men who paint with a brush that has a handle eight feet long can paint like Velasquez.
In Herrera's studio there were often heated arguments as to merits and demerits, flat contradictions as to facts, and wordy warfare that occasionally resulted in broken furniture. On such occasions, Herrera never hesitated to take a hand and soundly cuff a pupil's ears, if the master thought the pupil needed it.
Velasquez has left on record the statement that Herrera was the most dogmatic, pedantic, overbearing and quarrelsome man he ever knew. Just what Herrera thought of the young man Velasquez, we unfortunately do not know. But the belief is that Velasquez left Herrera's studio on request of Herrera.
He next entered the studio of the rich and fashionable painter, Pacheco. This man, like Macaulay, had so much learning that it ran over and he stood in the slop. He wrote a book on painting, and might also have carried on a Correspondence School wherein the art of portraiture would be taught in ten easy lessons.
In Madrid and Seville are various specimens of work done by both Herrera and Pacheco. Herrera had a certain style, and the early work of Velasquez showed Herrera's earmarks plainly; but we look in vain for a trace of influence that can be attributed to Pacheco. Velasquez at eighteen could outstrip his master, and both knew it. So Pacheco showed his good sense by letting the young man go his own pace. He admired the dashing, handsome youth, and although Velasquez broke every rule laid down in Pacheco's mighty tome, "Art As I Have Found It," yet the master uttered no word of protest.
The boy was bigger than the book.
More than this, Pacheco invited the young man to come and make his home with him, so as the better to avail himself of the master's instruction. Now, Pacheco (like Brabantio in the play) had a beautiful daughter—Juana by name. She was about the age of Velasquez, gentle, refined and amiable. Love is largely a matter of propinquity: and the world now regards Pacheco as a master matchmaker as well as a master painter. Diego and Juana were married, aged nineteen, and Pacheco breathed easier. He had attached to himself the most daring and brilliant young man he had ever known, and he had saved himself the annoyance of having his studio thronged with a gang of suitors such as crowded the courts of Ulysses.
Pacheco was pleased.
And why should Pacheco not have been pleased? He had linked his name for all time with the History of Art. Had he not been the teacher and father-in-law of Velasquez, his name would have been writ in water, for in his own art there was not enough Attic salt to save it; and his learning was a thing of dusty, musty books.
Pacheco's virtue consisted in recognizing the genius of Velasquez, and hanging on to him closely, rubbing off all the glory that he could make stick to himself.
To the day of his death Pacheco laid the flattering unction to his soul that he had made Velasquez; but leaving this out of the discussion, no one doubts that Velasquez plucked from oblivion the name and fame of Pacheco.
"Those splendid blonde women of Rubens are the solaces of the eternal fighting-man," writes Vance Thompson. The wife of Velasquez was of the Rubens type: she looked upon her husband as the ideal. She believed in him, ministered to him, and had no other gods before him. She had but one ambition, and that was to serve her lord and master.
Her faith in the man—in his power, in his integrity and in his art —corroborated his faith in himself. We want One to believe in us, and this being so, all else matters little.
Velasquez seems a type of the "eternal fighting-man"—not the quarrelsome, quibbling man, who draws on slight excuse, but the man with a message, who goes straight to his destination with a will that breaks through every barrier, and pushes aside every obstacle. With the savage type there is no progression: the noble red man is content to be a noble red man all his days, and the result is that in standing still he is retreating off the face of the earth. Not so your "eternal fighting-man"—he is scourged by a restlessness that allows him no rest nor respite save in his work.
Beware when a thinker and worker is let loose on the planet!
In the days of Velasquez, Spain had but two patrons for art: Royalty and the Church.
Although nominally a Catholic, Velasquez had little sympathy with the superstitions of the multitude. His religion was essentially a Natural Religion: to love his friends, to bathe in the sunshine of life, to preserve a right mental attitude—the receptive attitude, the attitude of gratitude—and to do his work: these things were for him the sum of life. His passion was art—to portray his feelings on canvas and make manifest to others the things he himself saw. The Church, he thought, did not afford sufficient outlet for his power. Cherubs that could live only in the tropics, and wings without muscles to manipulate them, did not mean much to him. The men and women on earth appealed to him more than the angels in Heaven, and he could not imagine a better paradise than this. So he painted what he saw: old men, market-women, beggars, handsome boys and toddling babies. These things did not appeal to prelates—they wanted pictures of things a long way off. So from the Church Velasquez turned his gaze toward the Court of Madrid.
Velasquez had been in the studio of Pacheco at Seville for five years. During that time he filled the days with work—joyous, eager work. He produced a good many valuable pictures and a great many sketches, which were mostly given away. Yet today, Seville, with her splendid art-gallery and her hundreds of palaces, contains not a single specimen of the work of her greatest son.
It was a rather daring thing for a young man of twenty-four to knock boldly at the gates of Royalty. But the application was made in Velasquez's own way. All of his studies, which the critics tauntingly called "tavern pieces," were a preparation for the life and work before him. He had mastered the subtlety of the human face, and had seen how the spirit shines through and reveals the soul.
To know how to write correctly is nothing—you must know something worth recording. To paint is nothing—you must know what you are portraying. Velasquez had become acquainted with humanity, and gotten on intimate terms with life. He had haunted the waysides and markets to good purpose; he had laid the foundation of those qualities which characterize his best work: mastery of expression, penetration into character, the ability to look upon a face and read the thoughts that lurk behind, the crouching passions, and all the aspirations too great for speech. To picture great men you must be a great man.