by Clive Bell
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But even in the age of decay Oriental art retained traces of primitive splendour. It never sank into mere representation. The men who turned out the popular Japanese colour-prints, though they chose the same subjects as the Dutch genre painters, were artists enough to treat them differently and to look for something significant beneath the mass of irrelevant accidents. Also they preserved a nicer sensibility to material beauty. A cheap Japanese print has sometimes the quality of a painting by Whistler. Indeed, the superiority of the Orientals is discreetly insinuated from beginning to end of Mr. Binyon's essay. Equal, if not superior, to the Greek or Christian in the primitive stage, the Asiatic movement clung to the heights longer, sank more gradually, and never sank so low. These facts are painful, but patent; they require explanation.

Why is Oriental art generally superior to European? Bearing in mind what has been said about the nature of the greatest art, we shall expect it to be because in the East they have kept in closer touch with reality. That is precisely what has happened. The emotional life has never been in the East what it has become in the West, the rare possession of a fortunate few. There the practical life has been kept subordinate, a means to supporting the emotional. In China men still go about their business that they may purchase leisure in which to contemplate reality. In Europe we are practical; and reality is banished from the life of the practical man who regards all things as means instead of contemplating them as ends. He sees just what is of use to him, and no more. He sees enough for identification and recognition; in fact, he reads the labels on things. The labels are all he requires. In the emotional life things are valued for their significance—for what they are, not for what they can be made to do; they are seen whole because they are seen as ends. The practical man sees only a part—the part that serves his purpose. The camera sees more than that, it sees all the details; but it cannot see the spirit—that has to be felt.

Most Europeans think of boats as means of locomotion, of apples as eatables. They recognize such things by their serviceable qualities; their individuality, the universal in these particulars, escapes them. In a picture of a boat or an apple they look for those unessential qualities which minister to their pleasure, and of which alone they are aware. The cleverness of a man who can paint fruit that tempts urchins impresses them; but the artist who feels, and tries to express, the soul of fruit and flowers they take for an incompetent dunce or a charlatan.

"One might say that man has been a monarch, looking to his subject-world only for service and for flattery, and just because of this lordly attitude he has failed to understand that subject-world, and, even more, has failed to understand himself."

In the East men have ever set the spiritual life above the practical, and artists have excelled in expressing the very essence of material things because they expressed what they felt, instead of representing what the ordinary man sees. They have felt that if the spirit informs all, then all must have individual significance. To see things as means is to see what is most useful and least important about them. To see things as ends is to be shockingly unpractical; it is to see God in everything; it is to exalt the spirit above the flesh; it is not the way to "get on"; but it is the only way to produce significant art, and, indeed, it is only on such terms that life itself signifies.

So far we have admitted the superiority of the East: the last word has yet to be said. Few observant people will deny that there are signs of an awakening in Europe. The times are great with the birth of some new thing. A spiritual renaissance may be at hand. Meanwhile, we are not suffered to ignore the huge strides in material progress that are the chief glory of modern Japan; nor have we failed to remark that the latest art to reach us from that country proved, when displayed with some ostentation at Shepherd's Bush, equal in vulgarity of sentiment, flashiness of execution, and apelike imitation to the worst that can be seen at Burlington House. Philistinism, it seems, finds ready converts on the other side of the globe. Let the spokesmen of the young and bustling empire be heard. Shiba Kokan, the pupil of Harunobu, says in his "Confessions":

"In Occidental art objects are copied directly from nature; hence before a landscape one feels as if one were placed in the midst of nature. There is a wonderful apparatus called the photograph, which gives a facsimile copy of the object, whatever it is, to which it is directed. Nothing which has not actually been seen is sketched, nor is a nameless landscape reproduced, as we often see done in Chinese productions.... A painting which is not a faithful copy of nature has neither beauty nor is worthy of the name."

And this is the considered judgment of that popular modern painter Okio:

"The use of art is to produce copies of things, and if an artist has a thorough knowledge of the properties of the thing he paints, he can assuredly make a name.... Without the true depiction of objects there can be no pictorial art. Nobility of sentiment and suchlike only come after a successful delineation of the external form of an object."

Such men would be very much at home at an Academy banquet or in the parlour of a suburban stockbroker and less so in the world of art than a saint would be in Wall Street. For whereas the saint would perceive the spark of the universal in the particular stockjobber, the stockjobber and his friends, Mr. Okio, the delineator, and the philophotographic Mr. Kokan, are blind to anything that is not on the surface. Japan, we are told, is to shape the future of the Eastern hemisphere. Japan is "forging ahead." Already she has set her hand to the task of civilizing, that is to say Europeanizing, China—just at the moment when Europe is coming to loathe her own grossness. Time is the master of paradox. Who shall say what surprises are too fantastic for his contriving? Can the classic distinction between East and West, that venerable mother of trite reflections and bad arguments, be, after all, mutable? Is the unchanging East changeable? Is Mr. Kipling's thrilling line no more than the statement of a geographical truism? England they tell us was once a tropical forest; London may yet be the spiritual capital of the world, while Asia—rich in all that gold can buy and guns can give, lord of lands and bodies, builder of railways and promulgator of police regulations, glorious in all material glories—postures, complacent and obtuse, before a Europe content in the possession of all that matters.


[14] "The Flight of the Dragon: an Essay on the Theory and Practice of Art in China and Japan." By Laurence Binyon. (John Murray.)


[Sidenote: New Statesman Oct. 1914]

Here is a book that starts a dozen hares, any one of which would be worth catching or hunting, at any rate, through a couple of large-type columns. For a really good book about William Morris is bound to raise those questions that Morris made interesting and his disciples fashionable, and that our children, we may hope, will one day make vital. "How far can society affect art, or art society?" "What might we have made of machinery and what has machinery made of us?" "Was the nineteenth century a disaster or only a failure?" These are the questions that it seems right and natural for a writer who has made William Morris his peg to discuss; and if I discuss something quite different it may look as though, forsaking profitable hares, I were after a herring of my own trailing. Yet, reading this book, I find that the question that interests me most is: "Why does Clutton Brock tend to overrate William Morris?" To answer it I have had to discover what sort of person I suppose Clutton Brock to be, and William Morris to have been.

Clutton Brock is one of our best critics. When I say this, of course I take into consideration his unsigned writings, the anonymity of which is not so strict as to make my judgment indiscreet. Without the subtlety of a philosopher or a trained dialectician, he has been blest with a powerful intellect which enables him, unlike most of our critics, not only to distinguish between sense and nonsense, but himself to refrain from saying what is utterly absurd. Mr. Brock does not like nonsense, and he never talks it. Both the form and the content of his criticism are intellectual. He is in the great English tradition—the tradition of Dryden and Johnson and Macaulay and Leslie Stephen; he has an argumentative prose-style and a distaste for highfalutin, and, where the unenlightened intellectualism of Macaulay and Leslie Stephen, and the incorrigible common sense of Johnson, might have pitched these eminent men into the slough of desperate absurdity, it often happens that Mr. Brock, whose less powerful mind is sweetened by a sense of art, contrives to escape.

No man who has ever done anything worth doing has done less highfalutin than Morris. He was always the craftsman who kept close to his material, and thought more about the block and the chisel than about aesthetic ecstasy. The thrills and ecstasies of life, he seems to have felt, must come as by-products out of doing one's job as well as one could: they were not things, he thought, to aim at, or even talk about overmuch. I do not agree with Morris, but that is beside the point. The point is that Clutton Brock is unwilling to disagree with him violently. He has a peculiar kindness for Morris that does not surprise me. He is a man who works for his living, and does his work so well that we may be sure he wins from it delight. The greater part of what he writes he does not sign; and there are thousands of people in England who, though they hardly know his name, have yet been affected by his mind. As he sits quietly producing a surprising quantity of good literature, he must sometimes feel very near those anonymous craftsmen of the Middle Ages who, lost in the scaffolding, struck out forms that would to-day make only too familiar the names of their creators. At such moments, can he be less than partial to the man who understood so well the greatness and the dignity of those nameless artists?

Morris was amongst the first to perceive that much of the greatest art has been produced anonymously and collectively; and we may be sure that Clutton Brock shares his dislike for that worship of names, that interest in catalogues and biographies, which amongst the collecting classes still does duty for aesthetic sensibility. Morris was indignant, as well he might be, when he heard the pictures of some famous artist—famous because he signed his name and left some record of his life—exalted above the sculpture and windows of Chartres—the work of obscure stone-cutters and verriers. He loved the mediaeval craftsmen for the fineness of their work and for their personal modesty. He liked to think of men who could take their orders from a contre-maitre and execute them superbly, partly, I think, because he saw that these were men who could be fitted into his ideal State. And Mr. Clutton Brock, good Socialist that he is, must, I suppose, himself have been perplexed by that problem which confronts every modern State-projector: What is to be done about the artists? How are these strange, turbulent, individualistic creatures to be fitted into any rational collectivism? What place can be found in Utopia for people who do not work to live, but live to do what they consider their own peculiar piece of work? Now, if only they were craftsmen, they would make what was wanted; they would do what they were told.

Some feeling of this sort may, I think, be at the back of Mr. Clutton Brock's peculiar sympathy with Morris; it would explain, too, why he did less than justice to Shelley in that remarkable study he published some years ago. He could not quite forgive the poet for being so hopelessly anti-Social. Perhaps, in his heart, Mr. Brock would hardly admit the absolute value of aesthetic rapture; he wants art to do something for life, and he loses patience with people who simply add to its confusion. Shelley, he thought, made a mess of his own life and of Harriet's, and, for all one knows, of Miss Hitchener's, and of a score of others; and his poetry you must read for its own sake or not at all. The poetry of Morris has value for people who have never known what it is to feel an aesthetic emotion, and his life was superbly useful to his fellow-men. The great State of the future will be glad of as many William Morrises as it can get.

But it is I who am being less than just now. From what I have said any one might infer that I had not read, or had not appreciated, that volume called "The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems," in which are to be found things of pure beauty, "Summer Dawn," "In Prison," "The Wind," "The Haystack in the Floods"; any one might suppose that I did not know "Love is Enough." These are the poems which, with "Sigurd," give William Morris his place amongst the poets. Mr. Clutton Brock feels this surely enough, because he possesses, besides intellect, that other and rarer critical faculty, that spiritual tuning-fork by which a fine critic distinguishes between emotion and sentimentality, between rhetoric and rant. It is because Mr. Brock possesses this peculiar sensibility—part aesthetic, part ethical, and part intellectual, it seems—that he can be trusted to detect and dislike even the subtlest manifestations of that quality which most distinguishes Tennyson from Morris, Kipling from Walt Whitman, and the Bishop of London from the Vicar of Wakefield. That is why I suppose Mr. Brock to be one of our best critics.

If there were anything fundamentally nasty about Morris Mr. Brock would not be inclined to overrate him. Mr. Brock pardons no unpardonable horrors: there are none here to pardon. But he overrates, or rather overmarks, William Morris as a scrupulous but soft-hearted examiner might overmark a sympathetic pupil. He never gives marks when the answer is wrong, but he gives a great many when it is right: and he is a little blind to deficiencies. He does not make it clear that Morris, as an artist, was cursed with two of the three modern English vices, that he was provincial and amateurish. But he gives him full credit for not being goaded to futility by a sense of his own genius.

Morris was provincial as the Pre-Raphaelites and Tennyson and Carlyle were provincial, as Swinburne and Whistler were not; his mind could rarely escape from the place and age in which it was formed. He looked at art and life, and at the future even, from the point of view of an Englishman and a Victorian; and when he tries to change his position we feel the Victorian labouring, more or less unsuccessfully, to get out of himself. When I accuse him of being "amateurish" I do not use that vile word in contradistinction to "professional." In a sense all true artists must be amateurs; the professional view, the view that art is a hopeful and genteel way of earning one's living, is possible only to official portrait-painters and contractors for public monuments. When I say that Morris, like almost all our visual artists and too many of our modern writers, was amateurish, I mean that he was not serious enough about his art. He tended to regard art as a part of life instead of regarding life as a means to art. A long morning's work, an afternoon of fresh air, a quiet evening, and so to bed and fit next morning for another good spell of production; something of that sort, one fancies, was not unlike the ideal of William Morris. It is a craftsman's ideal; it is a good life for any one but an artist; and it would be a good attitude towards art if art were not something altogether different from work. Alas! it is the English attitude. I never look at those Saxon manuscripts in the British Museum but I say to myself: "And didn't they go out and have a game of cricket after hours and work all the harder next day for their wholesome exercise!"

But from the fatal curse Morris was free; no man of great ability was ever less conceited. You will not find in his work a trace of that tired pomposity which tells us that the great man is showing off, or of that empty pretentious singularity which betrays the vanity of the lonely British artist. Morris was never the self-conscious master calling on sun and moon to stand and watch him sign his name, neither was he the shy genius of the English hedgerows sheltering his little talent from contemporary infection and the chill winds of criticism.

Morris was neither a great artist nor a great thinker, but he was a great man, and that, I suspect, is the chief reason why Mr. Brock loves him, and why none of the better sort can help liking him. He had that magnanimity which makes people take instinctively the right side. His reasons might be wrong, but he was in the right. There are people in history, and Morris is one of them, about whom we feel that if they were alive they would sympathize with whatever were the best and most pressing aspirations of the age. Morris would, of course, be as firm to-day as ever against plutocracy, but one feels sure that he would take his stand with those who are trying to win for themselves some kind of moral and intellectual as well as economic freedom. One feels sure he would be of that forlorn hope of civilization that carries on a sporadic and ineffective war against officialism and militarism on the one hand, and puritanism and superstition on the other. One feels sure that, however little he might like new developments in art or thought, he would be against the people who tried to suppress them. One feels quite sure that he would never cease to believe that so long as society is imperfect it is the right and duty of individuals to experiment. The fact is, Morris was at once a practical craftsman and an idealist. In practical affairs and private prejudices he could be as truculent and wrong-headed as the rest of us; but he was always conscious of something much more important than practical affairs and private prejudices. He cared nothing for his own reputation and little for immediate success because he cared for something greater. For that he cared so much that he was able to forgive the quarrels and absurdities of the Hammersmith Socialists and to laugh even at his own vehemence.


[15] "William Morris." By A. Clutton Brock. (Williams and Norgate: Home University Library, 1s. net.)


[Sidenote: Burlington Magazine May 1914]

Very slowly it is becoming possible to construct a history of Persian painting. Until quite lately all attempts were frustrated by what is sure to frustrate the attempts of the first historians of any "school" or "slope," or, for that matter, of any subject whatever—a false point of departure. So long as it was supposed that Behzad was the first mature master of Persian painting, Persian art-historians were as inevitably out in their conjectures as were the people who used to believe that Raphael was what they would have called "the fons et origo" of European painting.

We are now acquainted, if not familiar, with Persian paintings of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, with the Mongol and with a pre-Mongol school—for it seems imprudent to give the name Mongol to works that can be assigned to a date earlier than 1258 (the year of the eponymous establishment), especially as they differ profoundly from the recognized Mongol type. We know that the pre-Mongol school was the heir of a great decorative tradition; and we have good reasons for believing that this tradition was based on Sassanian, Sung, and Byzantine art. We are therefore more or less in the position of people who should be acquainted with the work of Cimabue, Giotto, and Duccio, though knowing very little of Byzantine art and its primitive developments in the West.

Of this early period—Mongol and pre-Mongol—we do not yet possess many examples; but the student who turns to the Burlington Magazine for July and August 1913 will see reproductions from a superb manuscript of the late thirteenth century, Mr. Pierpont Morgan's "Manafi-i-Heiwan," and any one who has the good fortune to know M. Claude Anet or M. Vignier can probably be put in the way of seeing some originals. He will discover in the work of this early period two distinct schools: one—of which the running ibexes in the "Manafi-i-Heiwan" is an example—obviously related to Sung; the other—of which the "Kalila and Dimna" miniatures[17] (dated 1236), and the elephants from the "Manafi-i-Heiwan" (1295 circa) may be taken as illustrations—reminding us rather of Sassanian art. Exquisite perfection of line is the dominant characteristic of the first school; in the second, we find a broader treatment, a more splendid disposition of masses, and a more monumental design than in any other known school of Persian painting. It is amongst the works of these thirteenth-century painters that we must look for the discovered masterpieces of Persian art.

In our present state of ignorance we may call this the great age. It is the familiar age of fine Rhages pottery; and to compare the beautiful drawing on the twelfth-and thirteenth-century pots with the miniatures of this period is to let a flood of light on to the study of both. Mr. Kevorkian has, or had, a wonderful painting from "The History of the Kalifs" by Tabari (about 1200), the figures of which might have walked straight out of a Rhages bowl into which they had walked some fifty years earlier direct from Western China. Yet, admirable as this thirteenth century is, I do not believe that it is in fact the supreme age of Persian painting. Certainly it is not the primitive age. This is an art that comes out of a long tradition. And just as we have already discovered pottery earlier than and surpassing that of the thirteenth century, so I hope and believe we shall yet see primitive Persian paintings superior to anything that the late pre-Mongol and Mongol period can show. For the present we can only say that the works of this period are not much inferior to the greatest that the genius of any race or age has created.

In 1335 begins what is known as the Timourid age—the age beloved above all others by discerning connoisseurs—and it is tempting to assign to this famous period the illustrations in a manuscript belonging to Mr. Herramaneck, now in the possession of Mr. Arthur Ruck, from which are drawn the paintings reproduced on Plate I. This temptation is strengthened by the fact that the manuscript is said to be dated 1398; yet it is a temptation to which I am unwilling to yield. Rather, I incline to think that these are the work of an early contemporary of Behzad, by whom they are not influenced, and that they belong, therefore, to that interesting period of transition which lies between the Timourids of the fifteenth and the Sefevaeans of the sixteenth century. If we turn to the Burlington Magazine for October 1912, we can compare our Plate I, a, with two paintings, one in M. Claude Anet's collection dating from the fourteenth century, the other from M. Meyer-Riefstahl's belonging to the fifteenth. All have Mongol affinities: but in M. Anet's picture, though the rather finicking and academic drawing of the tree shows that already under the early Timourids the full Persian style was developed, there are yet to be found traces of a monumental design that had almost disappeared by the end of the fifteenth century.

The work here illustrated is too "descriptive" and not sufficiently "monumental" to be assigned to the Timourid age, and so I give it to the late fifteenth century, to those delicious years when the old tradition, though weakened, had not been smothered under the scenic delicacies brought into fashion by Behzad. If the Timourid age is to be dubbed the Persian quattrocento, Mr. Ruck's man will pass muster as the counterpart of some artist older than Raphael, who worked independently of the young prodigy unaffected by his ultimately disastrous inventions.

From an album, also in the possession of Mr. Arthur Ruck, comes a drawing signed by Behzad and reproduced on Plate II, c. On the genuineness of the signature I cannot pretend to an opinion, but there seem to be no solid grounds for disputing it. The work itself is characteristic enough. It is accomplished and tasteful; it is also thin in quality and the forms are indifferently co-ordinated. It is, in fact, a very pretty piece of illustration; it is not a profoundly moving design. Compared with figure A on Plate I it is tight and unlovely: compared with the masterpieces of the thirteenth century it is not even what a picture by Raphael is to a picture by Giotto; if, historically, Behzad is the Raphael of Persia, aesthetically, he is a very inferior one.

It is in the post-Behzad art, their Sefevaean art of the sixteenth century, that the Persians have the advantage of us. The miniatures of this age were, until lately, reckoned by European collectors the masterpieces of Persian painting, and the decline of their reputation may be compared with that of those later cinquecentiste who stood so high in the taste of the eighteenth century. The descent, however, has been less sharp as the error was less glaring. After Behzad there is no such tumble as befell Italian art in the last days of the Renaissance. On the contrary, as my final illustrations (also drawn from Mr. Ruck's scrap-book) show, the Persian art of the sixteenth century maintained a very high level. The ladder picture (Plate III, D) is, I presume, by Sultan Mohamed. For my part I prefer it to the Behzad. It is less mechanical; and I find in it none of that weary pomposity, that gesture of the great man who knows his business too well, which so often displeases me in the master. Sultan Mohamed was, so the story goes, a pupil of Aga Mirek, who was a pupil of Behzad.

This charming Sultan Mohamed belongs to the middle of the sixteenth century, and its companion illustration (Plate III, E) may be placed some twenty years later. About this last, however, it would be easy and excusable to go wrong; for from the local colour and the head of the man who leads the horse it would seem to have been painted in India. We know that the album from which it comes was for many years in that country; yet I cannot believe that this picture is the product of any Indo-Persian school. It is too good: there persists too much of the great Timourid and Mongol tradition which, as the work of Sultan Mohamed shows, was still cherished by the Persian artists of the sixteenth century. That it is earlier than the seventeenth century and the reign of Shah Abbas is beyond dispute; it is untainted, or almost untainted, with that soft, slick, convictionless woolliness that was brought to perfection by Riza Abbassi, the court painter, and seems to have flattered so happily the taste of the Persian grand monarque. The figure of the kneeling princess comes nearer to the style of Mirek than to that of any other artist with whom I am acquainted; and, if I must hazard a guess, I will suggest that this is the work of some Persian pupil of Mirek who went to try his luck at the court of the Great Mogul.

With Shah Abbas and the seventeenth century Persian art becomes definitely and hopelessly second-rate. From the ruins emerge a variety of decadent schools of which two deserve mention. The academic school continued the Behzad tradition, and its hard but capable style did well enough for copying Persian old masters, European paintings by such artists as Bellini, and engravings by such artisans as Marcantonio—an amusing product of this last kind of activity (also from a book in Mr. Ruck's possession) will be reproduced later in the Burlington Magazine. At the same time there appeared a freer and softer style, examples of which, at first sight, sometimes remind one of a particularly good Conder. In India developed a number of schools, romantic, picturesque, and literal; of these, a queer sensual charm notwithstanding, it must be confessed that the two main characteristics are weakness of design and a sweetly sugary colour. But I am straying beyond any boundary that my illustrations could justify. I have been able to give excellent examples of the late middle period of Persian painting. In the two first we caught an echo of the great Timourid age and felt a premonition of the good Sefevaean: in the last we see how splendid Persian painting could be in its decline. I wish I could have reproduced examples to show how glorious was its youth and early manhood.


[16] To make the most of an article of this sort the reader ought, obviously, to have illustrations by him. For these, in the original even, I was obliged to refer to back numbers of the Burlington Magazine, and now I must refer also to the plates that accompanied this article when first it appeared.

[17] In the collections of M. Henraux and M. Claude Anet. Reproduced in the Burlington Magazine, October 1912.


[Sidenote: New Statesman Mar. 1914]

I hasten to accept Mr. Randall Davies's offer of friendship,[18] though I doubt whether much good can come of it if we are to go on arguing about aesthetics. We are too far apart. What Mr. Davies feels for a picture is something altogether different from what he feels for a carpet, whereas the emotion I feel for a carpet is of exactly the same kind as the emotion I feel for a picture, a statue, a cathedral, or a pot. Also, my whole system of aesthetics is based on this psychological fact, so that it would, perhaps, have been wiser in Mr. Davies to have stated the difference between us and let it go at that.

If some one were to find fault with the New Statesman on account of the flimsiness and inadequacy of the arguments it adduces in favour of private ownership of railways, the editor, being a polite man, would reply, I suppose, that his critic had misunderstood the policy of the paper: he would not feel that his arguments had received any very damaging blow. In my first chapter I made it clear—my publishers accused me of becoming repetitious about it—that what I wanted to discover was a quality common and peculiar to all those objects I called works of art; I explained that by "works of art" I meant objects that provoked in me a peculiar emotion, called aesthetic; and I repeated over and over again that amongst these objects were pictures, pots, textiles, statues, buildings, etc. Mr. Davies's sharp eyes have enabled him to perceive either that my hypothesis—that "significant form" is the essential quality in a work of art—leads to the inclusion of Persian carpets amongst works of art, or that the hypothesis that representation is the essence of art excludes them: I am not sure which. Anyway, this much is certain, either both pictures and carpets can be works of art or they cannot. I set out from the hypothesis that pictures and carpets, or rather some pictures and some carpets, are works of art; and therefore I am less inclined to feel crushed by Mr. Davies's discovery that my premises follow from my conclusions than to inquire why Mr. Davies does not consider carpets and pots and buildings works of art, or, if, after all, he does consider them works of art, to what class he relegates pictures and statues. My object is to discover some quality common and peculiar to all works of art. Such a quality there must be unless when we use the term "works of art" we gibber. Does Mr. Davies assert that only pictures and statues can be works of art? Or are we to assume that he gibbers?

Even if I cannot argue profitably with my new friend I may be able to give him a useful hint. For though, as he wittily observes, he is still much older than I am, it is conceivable that I enjoy a wider aesthetic experience.

"To look for the same qualities in a carpet and a picture would be equally absurd, seeing that one is intended to hang on the wall and the other to be laid on the floor. If any one doubts this, let him frame his carpets and put his canvases over the parquet."

To hang on the wall was, of course, precisely the purpose for which many of the finest Oriental carpets were intended; but disdaining all considerations, no matter how relevant, that seem to set a premium on scholarship, I will gladly put my friend and his readers in the way of carrying out this interesting experiment. They need not jeopardize the drawing-room furniture. Not far from the house in which Mr. Davies lives stands a building so large and so silly that it can scarcely have escaped his admiration. It is the Victoria and Albert Museum; and any one who cares to step inside can see a fair collection of Oriental carpets hanging picture-wise against the wall—hanging in frames too. I shall be very much surprised if the more sensitive of those who trouble to pay them a visit do not feel that these carpets are as aesthetically satisfactory on the wall as they would be on the floor, and I shall be amazed if they do not feel also that they are as definitely works of art as the objects that adorn the walls of the Tate Gallery.

My purpose is to discover the quality common and peculiar to works of art. I have suggested that this quality is what I call Significant Form—i.e. combinations of lines and colours that are in themselves moving. A good many people besides Mr. Davies have blamed me for giving the name Significant Form to just that form which seems to signify nothing. I adopted the term with hesitation, and I shall sacrifice it without pain if something better can be found to take its place. All the same, I did try to explain what I meant by it. I speak of Significant Form in contradistinction to Insignificant Beauty—the beauty of gems or of a butterfly's wing, the beauty that pleases, but does not seem to provoke that peculiar thrill that we call an aesthetic emotion. I suggested very cautiously that the explanation of this difference might lie in the fact that the forms created by an artist express, or in some way transmit, an emotion felt by their creator, whereas the forms of nature, so far as most of us are concerned, do not seem to hand on anything so definite. But about this part of my theory I was, and still am, extremely diffident, and I mention it here only in the hope of justifying what has seemed to many sensible people a silly name.

At the beginning of my book I was at some pains to explain why I held that all systems of aesthetics must be based on personal experience. I said that my purpose was to discover some quality common and peculiar to all works that moved me aesthetically, and I invited those whose experience did not tally with mine—and whose experience does tally exactly with that of any one else?—to discover some other quality common and peculiar to all the objects that so moved them. I said that in elaborating a theory of aesthetics an author must depend entirely on his own experience, and in my book I depended entirely on mine. There are people to whom a simple statement of this sort comes as a pressing invitation to score cheaply:—So now we know what art is, it is whatever you are pleased to honour with your approval. "But why should Mr. Bell suppose that the forms that move him are the only ones proper to move others?" says Mr. Davies.

"Again, it is as foolish for Mr. Bell, or any other individual, to say, as he does say, that Frith's Paddington Station is not a work of art as it would be for me to say that rhubarb tart—which I detest—is not food. If I were the only person in the world who ate anything, then, I admit, I should be right in saying that it was not food—for it would not be, because I should never eat it. And if Mr. Bell were the only spectator of works of art on earth, he would have a perfect right to say that Paddington Station was not a work of art. But as he is not the only person on earth—if he will forgive me for mentioning the fact—he has no right to say that it is not a work of art."

If this were anything more respectable than one of those pieces of grave but delicate sarcasm for which I am told Mr. Davies is famous, it would be perilous doctrine in the mouth of a professional art critic. We have no right to say that something is not a work of art so long as other people say that it is. The poor fellow who has gone through with a picture to the very end and has got it hung will always, I suspect, consider it a work of art; and I hope that some of his friends will have the humanity to back him up. Therefore ... well, we must be catholic. But Mr. Randall Davies, who deals out, week after week, column after column of aesthetic judgments, may surely be invited by his readers to disclose the criteria by which he distinguishes between works of art and rubbish. If a work of art be that which any one judges to be a work of art, we may as well consult the first policeman we meet instead of going for an opinion to a paid expert.

If Mr. Davies had understood the very simple language in which I stated my position, he would have realized that when I say that Paddington Station is not a work of art I mean that Paddington Station does not provoke in me an aesthetic emotion, and that I believe we can have no reason for thinking a thing to be a work of art except that we feel it to be one. Paddington Station did not move me; therefore I had no reason for judging it a work of art, but, of course, I may have looked at the picture stupidly and remained insensitive to the real significance of its forms. If Mr. Davies had understood the very simple language in which I stated my position, he would have realized that, far from making a claim to infallibility in aesthetic judgments, I insisted on the fact that we might all disagree about particular works of art and yet agree about aesthetics. But if Mr. Davies had been able to catch the general drift of my book, he would have understood that whether Paddington Station moves me or whether it leaves me cold is a matter of secondary importance. The point of first importance is whether a person who is moved in the same sort of way by Paddington Station and a Sung bowl and Sta. Sophia and a Persian carpet can find any quality common and peculiar to all save that which I have called Significant Form.

That is the problem. It is not quite so simple as I have had to make it appear. Some day I hope to answer the pertinent questions raised by Mr. Roger Fry and other critics. In my book I have examined my own experience in the hope of inducing my readers to examine theirs. What do they say? Are they really talking nonsense when they speak of "works of art," including under that head pictures, pots, buildings, textiles, etc.? If they are not, what characteristic distinguishes the species? Do they not feel as much emotion for a picture of a round of beef as for a picture of the Crucifixion, and do they feel less for a Sassanian textile? If what they had taken for a jug turns out to be a paper-weight; if, as sometimes happens in a battered fresco, what was said to be the Heavenly host is proved to be a pack of licentious Florentines, do they really have to readjust their aesthetic attitude? If people who are capable of feeling and of analysing their feelings will give me honest answers to these questions, I shall be even more grateful to them than I am to Mr. Davies for his facetious advertisement of my book.


[18] I wonder what Mr. Davies really said. Any one who cares to know has only to consult the New Statesman for March 7 or 14, 1914. I have not a copy by me. It looks as though there had been a pretty firm offer of some sort: it came to nothing, alas!




[Sidenote: Athenaeum July 1912]

There are many reasons for approving of the London Salon. For one thing it is the only place in England where pictures are hung without any selection being made. The fate of the Salon d'Automne, formerly the most interesting exhibition in Europe, could be cited to discredit the jury system, were it not that the system had discredited itself even more effectually in this country by making it appear that British art had ceased to exist. No matter how good the intentions of a jury may be, inevitably it comes to be dominated by a clique of painters who imagine that they are setting a high standard by rejecting all pictures sufficiently unlike their own. In France, therefore, "Les Independants" have become the representatives of contemporary art, while English people who hope to discover something vital at home must betake themselves to the Albert Hall.

But there is more than this to be said for the London Salon: its standard of painting is far higher than that of the Royal Academy or of the New English Art Club. For this we have chiefly to thank Mr. Walter Sickert and his pupils. They set the tone. It is extraordinary that any master should have led so many pupils so far along the road to art. All have been taken to that point where work ceases to appear utterly negligible. All have been made to search life for realities, and not for pictures. They have been taught to simplify and to select; and they have been taught not to select the obvious, the romantic, and the pretty. They have not been taught, however, to discover and express the profoundly significant, for that cannot be taught. Even Mr. Sickert cannot turn sincere and intelligent painters into artists.

Entering the arena, the visitor will probably turn first to the large picture by Mr. Wyndham Lewis. To appreciate this, he should take the lift to the gallery, whence, having shed all irrelevant prejudices in favour of representation, he will be able to contemplate it as a piece of pure design. He will be able to judge it as he would judge music—that is to say, as pure, formal expression. So judging, he cannot fail to be impressed by the solidity of the composition, to which the colour is not an added charm, but of which it is an integral part; he will feel that the picture holds together as a unity in the way that a good sonata holds, in a way that nothing else does in this exhibition; also he will feel a certain dissatisfaction which may cause him to inquire whether Mr. Lewis has altogether succeeded in expressing himself. We believe that he has not. There is a laboriousness about this work which seems to represent the artist's unsuccessful struggle to realize in paint his mental conception; and it is for this reason that we admire it rather as a promise of something great than as an achievement.

The other striking thing in the arena is Mr. Epstein's statue. Approached from behind, as the present writer approached it, this has very much the air of an important work of art; and that it well may be. Closer examination, however, raises some doubts. Is it, perhaps, only the imitation of one? Mr. Epstein is a baffling artist. His skill and scholarship are amazing, and he seems to have convictions; but what are they? Has he merely a brilliant gift for description, helped out and sophisticated by a subtle taste? Or has he a queer entangled sense of the significance of form. Is he a plastic artist or an extraordinarily gifted statuary? Even if this work be an imitation, how admirable a one is it! That Mr. Epstein should combine with the taste and intelligence to perceive the beauty of Mexican sculpture the skill and science to reproduce its fine qualities is surely something to note and admire. There is enough in this figure, imitative though it be, to secure for its author pre-eminence amongst living British sculptors.[19]

A third work in this part of the hall has attracted some attention. It is a picture of the coronation of George V. by one Fernand Piret, a French aviator—so the story goes—who never before dabbled in terrene arts. It may be so. In any case he has contrived a mordant comment on that memorable and mystic ceremony.

Upstairs, the best things are two charming pictures by Mr. S. F. Gore. It is a joy to watch the progress of this good artist. The patient and unpretentious labour of his experimental years is being handsomely rewarded. Mr. Gore is finding himself; we never doubted that he was well worth finding. Mr. Gilman, too, is steadily becoming more interesting; but Mr. Ginner has, as yet, hardly fulfilled the promise of his early work. The delicate sensibility and fine scholarship which M. Lucien Pissarro chooses to conceal beneath a presentment of almost exaggerated modesty will escape no one whose eyes have not been blinded by the flush of fashionable vulgarity, of which, happily, there is very little here. The London Salon is no place for those who are, or who hope to become, portrait-makers at "a thousand" a head.

All the creditable work to be found in this exhibition is not to be mentioned in one article. The pictures by Miss Helen Saunders, painted surely under the influence of Mr. Etchells; The Omnibus, by Mr. Adeney; the works of Mrs. Louise Pichard, Mr. Malcolm Drummond, Mr. J. B. Yeats, and Mr. W. B. C. Burnet; that rather pretentious piece, Les Deux Amies, by Madame Renee Finch; and The Cot, a charming little picture by Mrs. Ogilvie—all deserve more attention than any overworked critic is likely to give them. They are, for the most part, accomplished paintings that provoke no doubts and no outrageous hopes.


[19] 1917: A friendly critic reading this paragraph suggests that it might stand fairly as a description of Meštrović. I cannot agree. Epstein is in every respect superior to the Serbian sculptor, in whose work there can be no question of anything but pastiche. It has been said that it expresses the soul of Serbia. I know nothing of that. What I do know, what every one familiar with modern art knows, is that it expresses nothing but what can be learnt by any clever student in the schools of Vienna, Munich, and Paris.



[Sidenote: Nation Oct. 1913]

It is said that Cezanne was in the habit of describing himself as a pupil of Camille Pissarro. The belief is popular, and may be well founded; at any rate, it has emboldened Mr. Rutter to overstock his "Post-Impressionist and Futurist Exhibition" with unimportant works by this distinguished Impressionist. Surely a couple of examples would have sufficed to illustrate the latest, and best, theory of aesthetics. For that is the service performed on this occasion by the works of Pissarro. They mark that difference in purpose between three schools, an understanding of which will enable the intelligent student to pick his way across the depths and shallows of contemporary art.

The romantic artists of the early nineteenth century used form and colour to describe situations and comment on life. There are no examples of their work in this exhibition; but, as we shall see, the Futurists are unconsciously harking back to their theories. The Impressionists, in rebellion, used form and colour to register their visual impressions; they belong to the age of science and state facts without comment. But every romantic or impressionist painter who happened to be an artist also used form and colour as means of expressing and provoking pure aesthetic emotion. It was not his fault if he flew in the face of party principles; he was an artist and he could not help it. Cezanne was not only a very great artist; he was what is almost as rare, a thoughtful one. So, in his later periods, he came to use form and colour solely as means of expressing and provoking those extraordinary emotions that arise from the contemplation of real or imagined form. His theory quarrels with no vital school of art that has ever existed. He merely sifted the grain from the chaff, the relevant from the irrelevant.

The Lake, by Cezanne, is therefore the most important aesthetic document in this exhibition besides being the best picture. Cezanne set modern art on the right road. The revolutionary doctrine he bequeathed to Post-Impressionism is a truth as old as the Neolithic Age—the truth that forms and colours are of themselves significant. The Italian Futurists are at the opposite pole to Post-Impressionists because they treat form and colour as vehicles for the transmission of facts and ideas. Polka and Valse by Severini are, in intention, as descriptive as The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes; only they are meant to describe states of mind, whereas The Doctor purports to describe a situation. Whether, in fact, they succeed in describing anything, and, if so, whether what they describe is of much consequence, are questions for the psychologist. The critic of art has only to note that the forms and colours are in themselves insignificant and in their relations commonplace; they are also those much affected of late by the more adventurous students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Futurism is a negligible accident: the discoveries of Cezanne are safe in the hands of the French masters, with whose names the catalogue bristles—Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Marchand, Derain, Marquet, Friesz, Herbin, l'Hote. Unluckily, the big artists are, for the most part, meagrely represented by rather unimportant works, of which, by the way, a good many are already familiar to picture-goers. I think I never met so many old faces in a modern exhibition. And though I shall never complain of encountering a Matisse or a Marchand, though it be for the third time in eighteen months, to be vexed by some mediocre remnant from the summer exhibitions strikes me as an unnecessarily sharp tax on the patience.

I do not grumble at the reappearance of Wyndham Lewis's Kermesse, which has been altered and greatly improved since its last appearance at the London Salon. Lewis promises to become that rare thing, a real academic artist. He is academic in the good sense of the word—that is to say, he uses a formula of which he is the master and not the slave. He uses it as a means to vast organizations of form, designed, I imagine, to have something of the austere and impressive unity of great architecture. He succeeds to a surprising degree. The enemy that dogs him in all his works is an excessive taste for life. He is inclined to modify his forms in the interest of drama and psychology, to the detriment of pure design. At times his simplifications and rhythms seem to be determined by a literary rather than a plastic conception. Probably this is not the kind of criticism which by now Wyndham Lewis must have learnt to disregard. He is more accustomed, I suspect, to hearing his work called "mechanical" and "lifeless," and, in a sense, it is both. That is the price an artist must pay who sets himself to achieve the end that Lewis has in view. He who is working by formula towards the realization of a minutely definite intellectual plan must be willing, on occasions, to sacrifice the really valuable qualities of sensibility and handwriting as well as the adventitious charms that spring from happy flukes. Besides, I am not sure that Lewis has been blest with uncommon sensibility.

The peculiar merits of Kermesse will become obvious to any one who, after contemplating that picture, turns sharp round and glances at the big canvas by Delaunay. Delaunay, according to Mr. Rutter, is "the protagonist" of what is known in Paris as "Orfeism"; his picture, The Cardiff Football Team, is what used to be known in Paris as tres artiste. It is well made, but it is not made to wear. It is not what Cezanne would have called "quelque chose de solide et de durable comme l'art des musees." It is a brighter, gayer, more attractive thing than Kermesse, but in construction it is less subtle and less solid: by comparison, it looks like a poster, and a poster, I believe, is what it is.

It would be tedious to write at length about the French masters, considering how much has been written during the last twelve months in praise or blame of finer and more characteristic examples of their art. More profitably they may be used as a peg on which to hang a short sermon to their English imitators. Amongst these I do not reckon the painters of the Camden Town group, of whose work there is plenty in this exhibition. Walter Sickert, the chief of that school, was in possession of a style and a reputation when Picasso was still making figures on a slate. Spencer Gore has taken from the new movement just so much as was suited to his temperament, and, without submitting his personal gift to any formula, has added immensely to the significance and charm of his work. The majority, however, remain essentially what they have always been—realistic impressionists. They have been very conscientiously twisting their hurdy-gurdies while Rome was a-burning.

But, as this exhibition shows, there is a school of English Post-Impressionists. It is not completely represented here; indeed, the gaps are as conspicuous as they are unfortunate. Here we have only a heterogeneous collection of young painters, diverse in talent and temper, all of whom have this in common, that they have swallowed, more or less whole, the formulas which French masters invented and which French masters are now developing and modifying. Confronted by the elaborate surprises of these rank-and-file men, the patriotic critic, supposing such an anomaly to exist, will have to admit that English painting remains where it has generally been—in a by-street. It is well to admit this in time; for I can almost hear those queer people who can appreciate what is vital in every age but their own, squealing triumphantly—"We told you so." Yes; it is true. English Post-Impressionism is becoming academic: but Post-Impressionism is not; in France the movement is as vital as ever.

Too many of the English Post-Impressionists are coming to regard certain simplifications, schematizations, and tricks of drawing, not as means of expression and creation, but as ends in themselves, not as instruments, but as party favours. The French masters are being treated by their English disciples as Michael Angelo and Titian were treated by the minor men of the seventeenth century. Their mannerisms are the revolutionary's stock-in-trade. One is constantly confronted at the Dore Gallery by a form or a colour that is doing no aesthetic work at all; it is too busy making a profession of faith; it is shouting, "I am advanced—I am advanced." I have no quarrel with advanced ideas or revolutionary propaganda; I like them very well in their place, which I conceive to be a tub in the park. But no man can be at once a protestant and an artist. The painter's job is to create significant form, and not to bother about whether it will please people or shock them. Ugliness is just as irrelevant as prettiness, and the painter who goes out of his way to be ugly is being as inartistic and silly as the man who makes his angels simper. That is what is the matter with Hamilton's portrait in the big room—to take an instance at random. Hamilton has plenty of talent, and this picture is well enough, pleasant in colour and tastefully planned; but his talent would be seen to greater advantage if it did not strut in borrowed and inappropriate plumes. The simplifications and distortion of the head perform, so far as I can see, no aesthetic function whatever; they are not essential to the design, and are at odds with the general rhythm of the picture. Had the painter scribbled across his canvas, "To hell with everything," it seems to me he would have done what he wanted to do, and done it better.

What gives even minor Frenchmen an advantage over the English is artistic courage. They will be themselves at all costs, even at the risk of pleasing old ladies from the country, or passing unnoticed. Asselin goes farther than Nevinson with less ability. Yet Nevinson bears the Briton's burden more lightly than his fellows; probably because he is cleverer than most of them. He is clever enough to pick up some one else's style with fatal ease; is he not clever enough to diagnose the malady and discover a cure? If I were older, I would advise Nevinson and the more intelligent of this company to shut themselves up for six months, and paint pictures that no one was ever going to see. They might catch themselves doing something more personal if less astonishing than what they are showing at the Dore Galleries. Artistic courage, that is what is wanted—courage to create the forms that express oneself instead of imitating those that express the people for whom one would gladly be mistaken.



[Sidenote: New Statesman July 1914]

Because we all know stories of first-rate works of art having been offered at ridiculously low prices to English galleries and museums and refused by them on the ground that there was no money even for the purchase of what was very good and very cheap, we are surprised and even excited when we hear that a big price (some say as much as L5000) has been paid for a Chinese pottery figure. And those of us who have the fortune to belong to the privileged, and therefore well-behaved, sex hurry off to see what Mr. Hobson describes in the May number of the Burlington Magazine as "a new Chinese masterpiece in the British Museum."

Mr. Hobson is a sound archaeologist; consequently it is impossible to read his careful and admirably frank article without surmising that he himself feels some qualms of suspicion about the date, if not the beauty, of his treasure. For us the first question to be asked is: "Is this a fine work of art?" For Mr. Hobson I suppose the first care was to decide whether or no the thing was T'ang. His is the sound, the scientific, the archaeological method; and I feel sure he followed it because it is the archaeological method, and because, had he followed the unscientific, aesthetic method, and considered first the style and artistic worth of this figure, he would have found that in answering our question he had answered his own or made the asking of it superfluous. Had Mr. Hobson been as sensitive as he is sound, we may be sure that he would have seen this so-called T'ang Lohan in America or farther before ever he advised the British Museum to bid a shilling for it.

The "new Chinese masterpiece in the British Museum" is a common, pretentious thing, and that, if I must play the archaeologist, is a fair reason for suspecting that it is not the product of a great age—and T'ang art still seems great even after we have seen something of its greater predecessors, Wei, Liang, Sui. This figure, though larger than life-size, is nowise monumental; on the contrary, it is patently a bibelot agrandi, reminding one oddly in this respect of Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus. It is something that has been conceived on a small scale and carried out on a large. This fact alone, had it been noted, as it must have been by any one who looked at the figure aesthetically, would have suggested that this was a product, not of the T'ang dynasty—an age of monumental sculpture—but of the Ming dynasty—the great age of choice chinoiseries and archaistic experiments.

This theory—that the figure is Ming—technical evidence supports at least as strongly as it supports the T'ang attribution. Technique apart, artistic consideration makes it clear that if the work is not T'ang it must be as late as Ming. That this should be so may at first seem strange to those who remember that the T'ang dynasty flourished between A.D. 618 and 906, and the Ming between 1368 and 1643. Yet, in fact, it is far easier to confuse T'ang with Ming than to confuse a work of the intermediate Sung period (960-1279) with either. The mystery is not profound. Throughout the T'ang and Sung periods Chinese art was thoroughly alive; both T'ang and Sung are vital and original styles. T'ang art expresses the inspiration of one age, Sung of another; Sung follows and differs from T'ang as quattrocento follows and differs from Giottesque: they are different and characteristic modes of a continuous stream of inspiration. But the Sung dynasty and the Chinese inspiration collapsed within a hundred years or less of each other, and for suggestion and direction the Ming artists looked, not so much into their own hearts as to the past, and especially to the golden days of T'ang. History is deaf to the doctrine of progressive evolution, and, if we would understand the history of art, we must learn to think in styles rather than in years; also we must become accustomed to remote derivations. It is possible to confound Renaissance work of the sixteenth century with Roman of the second; it is impossible to confuse either with their neighbours, Gothic and Byzantine. Similarly, it would be intolerable to mistake Ming for Sung, but excusable to mistake it for T'ang, and that, I believe, is just what Mr. Hobson has done.

But, to be frank, I care very little when or where this figure was made; what I care about is its aesthetic insignificance. Look at the modelling of the hands: they are as insensitive and convictionless as lumps of bread. Look at the tight, cheap realism of the head; the accents violent without being impressive, the choice of relief common. The chest is the best part of the thing, and that strikes me as being traditional rather than felt. The view of the figure in profile is less unsatisfactory than the view from in front: but look at those hands!

If this thing impresses any one, it must impress him by its dramatic and not by its plastic qualities; and that is not the way in which a fine T'ang figure impresses us. Here the design is petty and the forms, in themselves, flaccid and poor; but the tight, realistic face is made to gaze most melodramatically into eternity. It is melodrama, I fancy, that has taken the town by storm. Compare this overgrown knick-knack with some really fine T'ang piece or, better still, with one of those Wei figures which the Museum had lately the chance of acquiring at a very moderate price, and you will feel the difference between form that impresses by sheer aesthetic rightness and form that reminds you of the late Sir Henry Irving. With all its elaborate quietness, this deep-contemplative Lohan is just a piece of rhetoric: put it beside something first-rate and you will know what to think of it as surely as you know what to think of

I have spread its folds o'er the dying, adrift in a hopeless sea; I have hurled it swift on the slaver, and seen the slave set free,

when you put that beside

He all their ammunition And feats of war defeats With plain heroic magnitude of mind....

Why is it always in purchases of this sort the nation sinks the best part of its miserable art fund? Well, in this case I think it is possible to follow the workings of official taste. Officials know as well as the rest of us that T'ang art is well thought of, and that without some important example of it no Oriental collection is deemed complete. But T'ang art, as a rule, is neither literary nor pretty nor at all the sort of thing the collecting class cares for. What this class really likes is the art of the eighteenth century and the art of the high Renaissance. Miraculously comes to light an important figure labelled T'ang yet rich in the dear, familiar qualities of Renaissance sculpture. As usual, the officials have got it both ways. Surely Providence had a hand in this, unless it was the dealers.



[Sidenote: Preface. Carfax Exhibition, June 1915]

Of the younger French artists Marchand seems to me the most interesting. By "the younger" I mean those who, though they descend from Cezanne, have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Matisse or Picasso or both. These form a just distinguishable group sandwiched between the quasi-impressionists—Bonnard, Manguin, Vuillard—and the Cubists. To be precise, it is of a battered sandwich that they are the core; the jam oozes through on either side. It always does. That is why scholars and historians have a hard time of it.

I dare say Marchand would deny that he had been influenced by any one; for some strange reason artists like to suppose that, unlike all other living things, they are unaffected by their environment. The matter is of no consequence, but with the best will in the world I should find it hard to believe that the Femme couchee devant un paysage (No. 5) would have been just what it is if Gauguin had never existed, or that the scheme of the beautiful Portrait de femme (No. 4) owes nothing to Picasso. And isn't it pretty clear that Marchand would have painted in an altogether different style if Cezanne had never existed?

Believing, as I do, in the influence of one artist on another, I regard this exhibition as a piece of rare good fortune for British art. Marchand is eminent in just those qualities that we most lack. Above all things he is a painter. I am curious to hear what Mr. Sickert has got to say about his pictures; and I shall be disappointed if they do not wring from him what used to be the highest encomium on the lips of his old friend Degas—C'est de la peinture!

No living painter is more purely concerned with the creation of form, with the emotional significance of shapes and colours, than Marchand. To him, evidently, the function of a painter is to paint; the discussion of such interesting matters as Love, Life, Death, and "The grand for ever," he leaves to the literary gentlemen. He has nothing to say about Man's place in the Universe, or even in Camden Town; it is in combinations of lines and colours that he deals, and, as you may see, he has already produced some of extraordinary subtlety and significance. Before such a picture as No. 7 or No. 12 the most inveterate psychologist, should he happen to possess a grain of sensibility, must be dumb; unless he murmur respectfully the name of Chardin.

Marchand is neither a doctrinaire nor a timid Conservative. He is familiar with the work of Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, and the whole Cubist school; and if by simplification, distortion, or what men of science would call "flat absurdity," he can in any way improve his composition, he does not hesitate to simplify, distort, or fly in the face of facts. He wants to create significant form, and all means to that end he finds good. But he is no doctrinaire. He never distorts or makes his pictures look queer on principle. He cares nothing for being in the fashion, neither does he eschew a novel eccentricity lest the nicest people should say that he is going a little too far. His work is uncompromisingly sincere. He neither protests against tradition nor respects it. He is an artist.

I shall not be surprised to hear that some critics consider Marchand dry and intellectual. Certainly he is not lyrical or charming. No picture by him has the ravishing loveliness of a Renoir or the delicious handling of a Duncan Grant. I suspect he paints all his big things in the studio. He makes sketches; and I shall be glad to hear what any one competently acquainted with the drawings of the old masters has to say about No. 39. But when he gets to work on his canvas I do not suppose he thinks of anything beyond the complete realization of a definite and perfectly elaborated scheme. There are no happy accidents or lucky flukes in his painting. It is as stark and solid as the work of Ingres or Mantegna. Some people call that sort of thing dry and intellectual; others call it masterly.

If English amateurs take kindly to these pictures they will do themselves great honour. They will prove that they can distinguish between the easy juxtaposition of pretty patches of colour and the profound and sensitive research of a true colourist; they will prove that they can distinguish between obvious relations and subtle harmonies; they will prove that they can recognize that quality which is common to works of art of all schools and ages, and that, when they see it, they like it. And those unlucky people who cannot, even in the presence of a work of art, forget for a moment all about politics and philanthropy, may like to remember that Marchand, too, has been unlucky. After great hardships he had just won his way to a position of some security when war broke out. He has lately been called up, not, I think, for active, but for some sort of military service. His pay, I believe, is one sou a day, and what happens to those who depend on him one does not care to imagine.

Marchand was born at Paris in 1883. His work is not unknown in England. Four of his pictures were shown at the Grafton Galleries in 1912; and not long ago I saw an exquisite little "still life" by him—No. 12 in this Exhibition, unless I mistake—at the New English Art Club. I wonder how it got there.



[Sidenote: Nov. 1917]

The collection of modern pictures made by Mr. Fry, and shown, first in Birmingham and then at the Mansard Gallery, is the most important we have seen in London since the beginning of the war—since the Grosvenor House show in the summer of 1914, to be exact. That the best exhibition we have seen for so long should be held in the best gallery is a bit of good luck which, in these unlucky days, seems extraordinary; but what seems miraculous almost is that Messrs. Heal and Sons seem positively to prefer good pictures to bad. I would, therefore, advise any one who thinks my advice worth having to keep an eye on the Mansard Gallery.

In this exhibition the best of the younger English artists—I am sorry there is nothing by Stanley Spenser, Wyndham Lewis, Bomberg or Roberts—are confronted by a handful of their French contemporaries. They are not confronted by the best of them: Mr. Fry has hung nothing by Matisse, Bonnard or Picasso, for instance, though, had he pleased, he could have shown a couple of pictures by the last-named, at any rate. He chose well, I dare say; but it is mere justice to admit that the only two French artists fairly represented are Marchand and de Vlaminck. For the rest, the single picture by l'Hote is a characteristic work of that engaging but not very formidable painter; the two small pictures by Friesz, good as they are, hardly rank among his masterpieces; there is in London at least one other work by Gris, and that, to my thinking, a better; while the Derain is by no means worthy of that eminent artist.

I wish we could have been shown three or four capital works by Derain, because there is no man in the modern movement more readily appreciated by people who care for painting, but boggle at the unfamiliar. I remember finding myself once in Kahnweiler's shop on the Boulevards with an extremely intelligent official from South Kensington, and I remember his admitting with excellent candour that, though the Picassos still puzzled him, he was a thorough convert to Derain. Naturally: how should a man of taste and erudition not appreciate the exquisite scholarship of an artist who can use the masters of painting as a very fine man of letters—Charles Lamb, for instance—uses the masters of literature? For Derain is one who has gone to the root of the matter and can remind you of the Siennese school or have a joke with Pinturicchio by a subtler method than quotation. When such a one bases his art on Cezanne and the douanier Rousseau, treating them quite simply as masters, an intelligent spectator is bound to unlock his most finished prejudices and take another look at them.

Marchand and de Vlaminck dominate one end of the gallery. There are three pictures by each, they are admirably hung, and the effect produced by this pool of distinguished and beautifully ordered colour is marvellous. One is brought to a stand by that indescribable sense that has come to most of us on entering for the first time some well-arranged room in an important continental gallery—a sense of being in the presence of great art. Closer examination, without destroying the unity of effect, proves these two men to be about as different as two very good artists of the same school and country can be. On Marchand I said my say two years ago when I wrote a preface for his show at Carfax: he is pre-eminently solid and architectural, and obviously he is highly sensitive—by which I mean that his reactions to what he sees are intense and peculiar. But these reactions, one fancies, he likes to take home, meditate, criticize, and reduce finally to a rigorously definite conception. And this conception he has the power to translate into a beautifully logical and harmonious form. Power he seems never to lack: it would be almost impossible to paint better. I do not know which of Marchand's three pictures is the best; but whichever it be, it is the best picture in the gallery.

With de Vlaminck it is from a word to a blow, from a thrilling emotion to a finished picture. If Marchand is like a minor Milton—the comparison is not one to be pressed—de Vlaminck is like Keats. He is the most lyrical of the younger Frenchmen; the flash and sparkle of his pictures is the wonderfully close expression of a tremblingly delighted sensibility. Yet there is nothing sketchy about them. Consider his landscape (No. 65), and you will be astonished to find what a solid, self-supporting design these delicately graded tones and lightly brushed forms compose.

Only one Englishman holds his own with the French painters, and he, of course, is Duncan Grant. The challenge to another very interesting young Englishman is, however, more marked since the de Vlaminck of which I have just spoken has as its rival on the wall, at right angles to it, The Mill (No. 32), by Mark Gertler. The comparison made, what first strikes one is that the Gertler, for all its assertion of strength and its emphatic, heavy accents, looks flimsy beside its lightly brushed and airy neighbour. But The Mill is not the piece by which Gertler should be judged; let us look rather at his large and elaborate Swing Boats. I have seen better Gertlers than this; the insistent repetition of not very interesting forms makes it come perilously near what Mr. Fry calls in his preface "merely ornamental pattern-making," but it is a picture that enables one to see pretty clearly the strength and weakness of this remarkable person.

With a greater artistic gift, Mark Gertler's conviction and conscience would suffice to make him a painter of the first magnitude. Unfortunately, his artistic gift, one inclines to suppose, is precisely that irreducible minimum without which an artist cannot exist. That is his weakness. His strength is that he exploits that minimum uncompromisingly to its utmost possibility. Gertler is one who will never say an idle word in paint, no matter how charming or interesting or amusing it might be. In his pictures you will look in vain for a single brush-stroke that does not serve his single purpose; he admits no adventitious dainties, there is nothing to quote. Happy touches are not in his way. Should he find some part of his picture empty he will not fill it with nicely balancing daisies, clouds, or bric-a-brac; he will begin it again. To him it will seem either that he has failed to conceive his work as a whole or that he has failed to realize his conception. Similarly, you will not easily discover a favourite passage; for if he felt that he had succeeded beyond expectation in one passage, that some note was sharper and truer than the rest, he would set himself to key the rest to that note. In art, such a process means incredible labour and agony; Gertler sweats blood and shows it. He labours terribly, and his pictures are terribly laboured. He is not artist enough to paint as a bird sings; he paints as a desperate soldier might dig himself in.

What he has to express is not, it must be confessed, of the highest quality, because his reactions are limited and rather undistinguished. He has only two or three notes, and they are neither rich nor rare. For an artist he is unimaginative, and often in their blank simplicity his conceptions are all but commonplace. In actual expression, too, though a first-rate craftsman who paints admirably, he lacks sensibility. In his handwriting—his lines and dashes, smudges and contours, that is to say—there is neither charm nor temperament. His colours do their work, saying what they have to say, but are without beauty in themselves or in their relations. There is something slightly depressing in the unlovely sincerity of his execution that reminds me rather of Fra Bartolomeo, and his imaginative limitations might be compared with those of Lesueur. I am taking a high standard, you perceive. And any one who cannot respond to the conviction and conscience with which he not only excludes whatever is irrelevant or fortuitous or false, but does positively realize his conceptions is, in my judgment, incapable of appreciating visual art.

No art could be more different from the art of Gertler than that of Duncan Grant. For him it seems impossible to scrabble a line or wipe his brush on a bit of paper without giving delight. As the saying goes, he is all over an artist. Men endowed with this prodigious sensibility, facility, and sense of beauty are not uncommon in England. In my time there have been four—Conder, Steer, John, and Duncan Grant. The danger is, of course, that they will fall into a trick of flicking off bits of empty prettiness to the huge contentment of a public that cannot bear artists to develop or be serious. But Duncan Grant shows no bad symptoms: from his early picture Lemon Gatherers (No. 35) (justly and almost universally admired for its great beauty and delightful references to Piero della Francesca) to the little "still life" in the north corner of the room, there is a vast progression; and beneath these gay and delicious paintings—so delicious one could fancy them good to eat—is a struggle with the problems of design and space-composition as vital as anything here to be found, unless it be in the work of Marchand. I noticed, by the way, that in Lemon Gatherers, a picture on cardboard, something is going wrong with the colours, and of this I take rather a serious view as the picture belongs to me. Duncan Grant is the hope of patriotic amateurs: blessed with adorable gifts and a powerful intellect, he should, if he has the strength to realize his conceptions and the courage to disdain popularity, become what we have been awaiting so long, an English painter in the front rank of European art.

Of the remaining British artists, the most interesting, to my mind, is Vanessa Bell. The influence of Duncan Grant on her work is unmistakable, and I hope, unlike most artists, who seem to suppose that for them the laws of cause and effect and the influence of environment are inoperative, she will not mind my saying so. Why, in artists so original as Giotto, El Greco, and Cezanne, at least 50 per cent is derivative! Vanessa Bell, like all artists, and especially women artists, is impressionable, but as the effect on her work of familiarity with one or two English painters and the modern French masters is altogether for the good, I see no harm in that. At the same time, she has very personal gifts. Besides a large simplicity of style, there is about her drawing something oddly sympathetic, and what I should call, for want of a better word, amusing; while a sense of the peculiar significance to her of certain forms and relations of forms comes through and gives to her work an air of intimacy that you will get from nothing else in this exhibition. Any woman who can make her work count in the art of her age deserves to be criticized very seriously. In literature the authoress stands firm on her own feet; only quite uneducated people—subaltern-poets and young Latin philosophers—believe that women cannot write; but it is a mere truism to say that no woman-painter, pace Madame Vigee-Lebrun, has yet held her own with contemporaries even. To-day there are at least three—Marie Laurencin, Goncharova, and Vanessa Bell—whose claim to take rank amongst the best of their generation will have to be answered very carefully by those who wish to disallow it. Behind them press half a dozen less formidable but still serious candidates, and I wish Mr. Fry would bring together a small collection of their works. It would be interesting to see how and how much they differ from the men; and, unless I mistake, it would effectively give the lie to those who fancifully conclude that because the Muses were women it is for women to inspire rather than create.


[20] This article was written for the Nation, but owing to a series of misfortunes could not be published until the exhibition was over. It then seemed best to reserve it for this collection.


[Sidenote: Burlington Magazine July 1917]

Only last summer, after going round the London galleries, a foreign writer on art whose name is as well known in America as on the Continent, remarked gloomily, and in private of course, that he quite understood why British art was almost unknown outside Great Britain. The early work of Englishmen, he admitted, showed talent and charming sensibility often, but, somehow or other, said he, their gifts fail to mature. They will not become artists, they prefer to remain British painters. They are hopelessly provincial, he said; and so they are.

Of our elder living artists—those, that is to say, who had found themselves and developed a style before the influence of Cezanne became paramount on the Continent—Mr. Sickert is probably the only one whom a continental amateur would dream of collecting; and he, be it noted, escaped early from British provincialism and plunged into the main stream of European art. On the other hand, the names of Mr. Steer, Mr. John, Mr. Orpen and Mr. McEvoy, here only less familiar than those of Cabinet Ministers or County Cricketers, abroad are as obscure. Mr. Steer, to be sure, has his portrait in the Uffizi, but then, as likely as not, the Poet Laureate has his birthday ode in the Bibliotheque Nationale. If Mr. Steer and Sir Edward Poynter are treated civilly abroad, that may be because England is an important country rather than because they are important artists.

No wonder patriots are vexed to find English art esteemed on the Continent and in America below the art of Germany or Scandinavia, seeing that English artists seem to possess more native sensibility than either Germans or Scandinavians and, perhaps, as much as Russians. Yet it is a fact that their work, by reason of its inveterate suburbanity, so wholly lacks significance and seriousness that an impartial historian, who could not neglect the mediocre products of North and East Europe, would probably dismiss English painting in a couple of paragraphs. For it is not only poor; it is provincial: and provincial art, as the historian well knows, never really counts.

It would be pleasant to fancy that England was working out, in isolation, an interesting and independent art; but clearly she is doing no such thing. There is no live tradition, nothing but fashions as stale as last week's newspaper. All that is alive is a private schoolboy rivalry, an ambition to be cock of the walk or to ape the cock, to be primus inter pares or amico di primus. There is no live English tradition; and as English painters refuse obstinately to accept the European, and as artists do not spring up unaccountably as groundsel and dandelions appear to do, this is a rather serious misfortune. Art does not happen, it grows—not necessarily in the right direction. The fact that the development of art traced through schools and movements squares pretty well with historical fact proves conclusively the existence of "influences" in art. No one will deny that Botticelli was an original and extremely personal artist or that he is the obvious successor of Lippo Lippi. El Greco is called by some the most lonely figure in the history of art—yet it needs no wizard to divine that Titian was his master or that he was reared in the Byzantine tradition. Artists, though they hate being told so, are, in fact, like other things, subject to the law of cause and effect. Young artists, especially, are influenced by their surroundings and by the past, particularly the immediate past, by the men from five to thirty years older than themselves.

Art lives on tradition, of which contemporary culture is nothing but the last development. But English artists, for the most part, ignore the real tradition, and what passes for development here is no more, as a rule, than a belated change of fashion. All that is vital in modern art is being influenced by the French masters—Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Rousseau, Picasso, Bonnard, Maillol, who, in their turn, were influenced by the Impressionists, and who all have been nourished by that great French tradition which, of late, has been so surprisingly affected by the influx of Oriental art. English painting, however, has been left high and dry; and our younger men either imitate their teachers, too often second-rate drawing masters, enjoying at best a dull acquaintance with the Italian fifteenth and English eighteenth centuries, or, in revolt, set up for themselves as independent, hedgerow geniuses, ignorant, half-trained, and swollen by their prodigious conceit to such monsters as vastly astonish all those who can remember them as children.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that when men of talent make great men of themselves, wrapping up in the cloak of genius and fronting the world mysteriously, and when this attitude is tolerated by the public, there is reason to suspect that art fares ill. Since every extension lecturer knows that Raphael was part of a civilization greater than himself it seems unnecessary to treat a fashionable portrait-painter as though he were as inexplicable as an earthquake and as remote as the Matterhorn. One of the things to be desired in England is more respect for art and less reverence for artists.

English literature has a great tradition—the tradition of the greatest literature in the world. I say that in ignorance, to be sure, of Chinese, but not unmindful of Athenian. It would be inexact to describe that tradition as part of the main continental tradition which, since the middle of the seventeenth century, has been predominantly French, coloured in the eighteenth century by English, in the early nineteenth by German, and in the twentieth by Russian literature. Yet the English tradition, rich and splendid as it is, has never allowed itself for long to lose touch with the European current. The curious have only to turn from the works of our young writers to those of Nietzsche, Dostoievsky, Tchekov, Mallarme, Rimbaud, Laforgue, and Claudel to appreciate the sensitiveness of English literature, which has never fallen into that insularity on which our lean visual art seems to pride itself. At moments—in mid-Victorian days, for instance—English literature may have appeared provincial; it was never suburban.

The tendency of British visual art to sink into a feeble barbarism seems to have existed always and to have asserted itself whenever we lost touch with the centre. The earliest English art, early Saxon sculpture, is good; it is a respectable part of that great Byzantine tradition which from the middle of the eighth to the middle of the ninth century appears to have been as vital in the north of England and in Ireland as in any part of Western Europe. The Normans kept England close to the centre and left us a little superb architecture; but from the beginning of the thirteenth century English visual art—architecture, painting, and sculpture—begins to take on that absurd air of being out of it which has since become the unfailing characteristic of an exhibition of home-made arts and crafts. In the seventeenth century we again got into touch with the movement and the genius of Inigo Jones and Wren gave us some admirable architecture. In the eighteenth we produced two painters of note, Blake and Crome, both of whom suffered desperately from their deplorable surroundings. What was interesting in Constable and Turner was seized and made use of more quickly and far more intelligently by French than by native artists. Here they were treated as isolated geniuses; there they were absorbed into the tradition of painting.

A student of contemporary art who found himself in the company of painters and amateurs in any great central city abroad—Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Moscow, Munich, Vienna, Geneva, Milan, or Barcelona—would be able to discuss, and doubtless would discuss, the contemporary movement. That movement, as every one outside England seems to know, radiates from France. He would discuss, therefore, the respective merits of Matisse, Picasso, Marquet, Marchand, Friesz, Derain, Bonnard, de Vlaminck, Maillol, Laprade, Segonzac, Delaunay, etc. etc.; and not only discuss and criticize their works, but the direction in which each was moving, the influence of one on another, and the influence of Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, or the douanier Rousseau on all. Such a company would know something about the development of the movement in other countries; it would have something to say about Kandinsky and the Munich painters, about Goncharova and Larionoff, about the Barcelona school, and even about the Italian futurists. In a word, it would be able to talk about contemporary European painting. Only in an English studio would such conversation be hard to come by: there one might learn that Mr. Smith was a greater genius than Miss Jones, that Mrs. Robinson would never finish her picture in time for the New English Exhibition, that Mr. John was the greatest painter in the world—though Mr. Innes had once run him hard—and that the greatest sculptor was some one whose name I cannot recall. Of contemporary French painting at most a perfunctory word; yet to ignore it is to put oneself beyond the pale of contemporary culture. And there, it seems, is just where we must look for English art; in European civilization it has no place. It is out of it; it is suburban.

Educated people, enjoying some knowledge of what has been happening abroad during the last fifty years, can scarcely conceive the ignorance and insularity of contemporary British painters. It was only the other day that one of the best of them, fired by Mr. Roger Fry's article in the Burlington Magazine, walked into the National Gallery and saw for the first time a Renoir. He was duly impressed; and hurried off, I am glad to say, to buy a book of reproductions. Another promising painter, who was in Paris just before the war, not only never saw a Cezanne, a Gauguin, a Matisse or a Picasso, but was equally neglectful of the Impressionist masters, never taking the trouble to visit the Luxembourg and inspect the Caillebotte bequest. Imagine a continental man of science who in 1880 had never taken the trouble to read "The Origin of Species" or investigate the theory of evolution!

The state of mind produced in most English painters by this outlandish ignorance is calamitous. Unconscious of what is going on abroad, dimly, at best, aware of what has been done in the past, and lacking effective, well-informed criticism from writers in the newspapers and from their fellow-artists, they work without standards, ideals or artistic seriousness, and soon fall into that ghastly complacency in which a man is content to satisfy the market with endless repetition of some popular success. Modesty is a virtue hardly attainable by the prize student from the Slade or the Academy who is persuaded that in a few years he will be the prize painter of the world, and is, in a few years, by press and public duly confirmed in his delusion. His first ambition will be to get a picture accepted by the Royal Academy or the New English Art Club, his next to wheedle the quidnuncs—i.e. the newspaper men—into giving him a place amongst the local worthies, his last to discover a formula that shall be the strong-box of his lucky hit. This accomplished, commissions and paragraphs begin to roll in with comfortable regularity, and he rests replete—a leading British artist. Is he ever plagued with nightmares, I wonder, in which he dreams that outside England no competent amateur could possibly take him seriously?

Some British artists, when they were young—and some of them must once have been so—are said to have studied in Paris. Does it ever occur to them that their proper rivals, the men whose rivalry is stimulating and not merely disquieting, are not to be found in London? And does it occur to them that, instead of hunting for tips in Bond Street and Burlington House they might go for lessons to the National Gallery and South Kensington? Whatever people may think of the art of Henri Matisse, his fame is beyond cavil. Just before the war commissions and entreaties were pouring in on him, not from France only, but from Russia, Germany, Scandinavia, and America. He had—he has, for that matter—what no English painter, with the possible exception of Constable, ever had—a European reputation. Yet in the spring of 1914, looking with a friend at a picture by Chardin, he is said to have remarked that if he could believe that one day he would paint as good a thing as that he would be extremely happy. If one of our famous portrait-painters would go for once to the National Gallery and stand, not before a great master, but before a Philippe de Champaigne or a Vivarini, I wonder what he would say.

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