CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY PAINTING AND SCULPTURE
BY W.C. BROWNELL
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1892
Copyright, 1892, by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
TO AUGUSTE RODIN
I. Classic Painting, 1 I. Character and origin. II. Claude and Poussin. III. Lebrun and Lesueur. IV. Louis Quinze. V. Greuze and Chardin. VI. David, Ingres, and Prudhon.
II. Romantic Painting, 47 I. Romanticism. II. Gericault and Delacroix. III. The Fontainebleau Group. IV. The Academic Painters. V. Couture, Puvis de Chavannes, and Regnault.
III. Realistic Painting, 89 I. Realism. II. Courbet and Bastien-Lepage. III. The Landscape Painters; Fromentin and Guillaumet. IV. Historical and Portrait Painters. V. Baudry, Delaunay, Bonvin, Vollon, Gervex, Duez, Roll, L'Hermitte, Lerolle, Beraud, The Illustrators. VI. Manet and Monet. VII. Impressionism; Degas. VIII. The Outlook.
IV. Classic Sculpture, 139 I. Claux Sluters. II. Jean Goujon. III. Style. IV. Clodion, Pradier, and Etex. V. Houdon, David d'Angers, and Rude. VI. Carpeaux and Barye.
V. Academic Sculpture, 165
I. Its Italianate Character. II. Chapu. III. Dubois. IV. Saint-Marceaux and Mercie. V. Tyranny of Style. VI. Falguiere, Barrias, Delaplanche, and Le Feuvre. VII. Fremiet. VIII. The Institute School in General.
VI. The New Movement in Sculpture, 205 I. Rodin. II. Dalou.
More than that of any other modern people French art is a national expression. It epitomizes very definitely the national aesthetic judgment and feeling, and if its manifestations are even more varied than are elsewhere to be met with, they share a certain character that is very salient. Of almost any French picture or statue of any modern epoch one's first thought is that it is French. The national quite overshadows the personal quality. In the field of the fine arts, as in nearly every other in which the French genius shows itself, the results are evident of an intellectual co-operation which insures the development of a common standard and tends to subordinate idiosyncrasy. The fine arts, as well as every other department of mental activity, reveal the effect of that social instinct which is so much more powerful in France than it is anywhere else, or has ever been elsewhere, except possibly in the case of the Athenian republic. Add to this influence that of the intellectual as distinguished from the sensuous instinct, and one has, I think, the key to this salient characteristic of French art which strikes one so sharply and always as so plainly French. As one walks through the French rooms at the Louvre, through the galleries of the Luxembourg, through the unending rooms of the Salon he is impressed by the splendid competence everywhere displayed, the high standard of culture universally attested, by the overwhelming evidence that France stands at the head of the modern world aesthetically—but not less, I think, does one feel the absence of imagination, opportunity, of spirituality, of poetry in a word. The French themselves feel something of this. At the great Exposition of 1889 no pictures were so much admired by them as the English, in which appeared, even to an excessive degree, just the qualities in which French art is lacking, and which less than those of any other school showed traces of the now all but universal influence of French art. The most distinct and durable impression left by any exhibition of French pictures is that the French aesthetic genius is at once admirably artistic and extremely little poetic.
It is a corollary of the predominance of the intellectual over the sensuous instinct that the true should be preferred to the beautiful, and some French critics are so far from denying this preference of French art that they express pride in it, and, indeed, defend it in a way that makes one feel slightly amateurish and fanciful in thinking of beauty apart from truth. A walk through the Louvre, however, suffices to restore one's confidence in his own convictions. The French rooms, at least until modern periods are reached, are a demonstration that in the sphere of aesthetics science does not produce the greatest artists—that something other than intelligent interest and technical accomplishment are requisite to that end, and that system is fatal to spontaneity. M. Eugene Veron is the mouthpiece of his countrymen in asserting absolute beauty to be an abstraction, but the practice of the mass of French painters is, by comparison with that of the great Italians and Dutchmen, eloquent of the lack of poetry that results from a scepticism of abstractions. The French classic painters—and the classic-spirit, in spite of every force that the modern world brings to its destruction, persists wonderfully in France—show little absorption, little delight in their subject. Contrasted with the great names in painting they are eclectic and traditional, too purely expert. They are too cultivated to invent. Selection has taken the place of discovery in their inspiration. They are addicted to the rational and the regulated. Their substance is never sentimental and incommunicable. Their works have a distinctly professional air. They distrust what cannot be expressed; what can only be suggested does not seem to them worth the trouble of trying to conceive. Beside the world of mystery and the wealth of emotion forming an imaginative penumbra around such a design as Raphael's Vision of Ezekiel, for instance, Poussin's treatment of essentially the same subject is a diagram.
On the other hand, qualities intimately associated with these defects are quite as noticeable in the old French rooms of the Louvre. Clearness, compactness, measure, and balance are evident in nearly every canvas. Everywhere is the air of reserve, of intellectual good-breeding, of avoidance of extravagance. That French painting is at the head of contemporary painting, as far and away incontestably it is, is due to the fact that it alone has kept alive the traditions of art which, elsewhere than in France, have given place to other and more material ideals. From the first its practitioners have been artists rather than poets, have possessed, that is to say, the constructive rather than the creative, the organizing rather than the imaginative temperament, but they have rarely been perfunctory and never common. French painting in its preference of truth to beauty, of intelligence to the beatific vision, of form to color, in a word, has nevertheless, and perhaps a fortiori, always been the expression of ideas. These ideas almost invariably have been expressed in rigorous form—form which at times fringes the lifelessness of symbolism. But even less frequently, I think, than other peoples have the French exhibited in their painting that contentment with painting in itself that is the dry rot of art. With all their addiction to truth and form they have followed this ideal so systematically that they have never suffered it to become mechanical, merely formal—as is so often the case elsewhere (in England and among ourselves, everyone will have remarked) in instances where form has been mainly considered and where sentiment happens to be lacking. Even when care for form is so excessive as to imply an absence of character, the form itself is apt to be so distinguished as itself to supply the element of character, and character consequently particularly refined and immaterial. And one quality is always present: elegance is always evidently aimed at and measurably achieved. Native or foreign, real or factitious as the inspiration of French classicism may be, the sense of style and of that perfection of style which we know as elegance is invariably noticeable in its productions. So that, we may say, from Poussin to Puvis de Chavannes, from Clouet to Meissonier, taste—a refined and cultivated sense of what is sound, estimable, competent, reserved, satisfactory, up to the mark, and above all, elegant and distinguished—has been at once the arbiter and the stimulus of excellence in French painting. It is this which has made the France of the past three centuries, and especially the France of to-day—as we get farther and farther away from the great art epochs—both in amount and general excellence of artistic activity, comparable only with the Italy of the Renaissance and the Greece of antiquity.
Moreover, it is an error to assume, because form in French painting appeals to us more strikingly than substance, that French painting is lacking in substance. In its perfection form appeals to every appreciation; it is in art, one may say, the one universal language. But just in proportion as form in a work of art approaches perfection, or universality, just in that proportion does the substance which it clothes, which it expresses, seem unimportant to those to whom this substance is foreign. Some critics have even fancied, for example, that Greek architecture and sculpture—the only Greek art we know anything about—were chiefly concerned with form, and that the ideas behind their perfection of form were very simple and elementary ideas, not at all comparable in complexity and elaborateness with those that confuse and distinguish the modern world. When one comes to French art it is still more difficult for us to realize that the ideas underlying its expression are ideas of import, validity, and attachment. The truth is largely that French ideas are not our ideas; not that the French who—except possibly the ancient Greeks and the modern Germans—of all peoples in the world are, as one may say, addicted to ideas, are lacking in them. Technical excellence is simply the inseparable accompaniment, the outward expression of the kind of aesthetic ideas the French are enamoured of. Their substance is not our substance, but while it is perfectly legitimate for us to criticise their substance it is idle to maintain that they are lacking in substance. If we call a painting by Poussin pure style, a composition of David merely the perfection of convention, one of M. Rochegrosse's dramatic canvasses the rhetoric of technic and that only, we miss something. We miss the idea, the substance, behind these varying expressions. These are not the less real for being foreign to us. They are less spiritual and more material, less poetic and spontaneous, more schooled and traditional than we like to see associated with such adequacy of expression, but they are not for that reason more mechanical. They are ideas and substance that lend themselves to technical expression a thousand times more readily than do ours. They are, in fact, exquisitely adapted to technical expression.
The substance and ideas which we desire fully expressed in color, form, or words are, indeed, very exactly in proportion to our esteem of them, inexpressible. We like hints of the unutterable, suggestions of significance that is mysterious and import that is incalculable. The light that "never was on sea or land" is the illumination we seek. The "Heaven," not the atmosphere that "lies about us" in our mature age as "in our infancy," is what appeals most strongly to our subordination of the intellect and the senses to the imagination and the soul. Nothing with us very deeply impresses the mind if it does not arouse the emotions. Naturally, thus, we are predisposed insensibly to infer from French articulateness the absence of substance, to assume from the triumphant facility and felicity of French expression a certain insignificance of what is expressed. Inferences and assumptions based on temperament, however, almost invariably have the vice of superficiality, and it takes no very prolonged study of French art for candor and intelligence to perceive that if its substance is weak on the sentimental, the emotional, the poetic, the spiritual side, it is exceptionally strong in rhetorical, artistic, cultivated, aesthetically elevated ideas, as well as in that technical excellence which alone, owing to our own inexpertness, first strikes and longest impresses us.
When we have no ideas to express, in a word, we rarely save our emptiness by any appearance of clever expression. When a Frenchman expresses ideas for which we do not care, with which we are temperamentally out of sympathy, we assume that his expression is equally empty. Matthew Arnold cites a passage from Mr. Palgrave, and comments significantly on it, in this sense. "The style," exclaims Mr. Palgrave, "which has filled London with the dead monotony of Gower or Harley Streets, or the pale commonplace of Belgravia, Tyburnia, and Kensington; which has pierced Paris and Madrid with the feeble frivolities of the Rue Rivoli and the Strada de Toledo." Upon which Arnold observes that "the architecture of the Rue Rivoli expresses show, splendor, pleasure, unworthy things, perhaps, to express alone and for their own sakes, but it expresses them; whereas, the architecture of Gower Street and Belgravia merely expresses the impotence of the architect to express anything."
And in characterizing the turn for poetry in French painting as comparatively inferior, it will be understood at once, I hope, that I am comparing it with the imaginativeness of the great Italians and Dutchmen, and with Rubens and Holbein and Turner, and not asserting the supremacy in elevated sentiment over Claude and Corot, Chardin, and Cazin, of the Royal Academy, or the New York Society of American Artists. And so far as an absolute rather than a comparative standard may be applied in matters so much too vast for any hope of adequate treatment according to either method, we ought never to forget that in criticising French painting, as well as other things French, we are measuring it by an ideal that now and then we may appreciate better than Frenchmen, but rarely illustrate as well.
Furthermore, the qualities and defects of French painting—the predominance in it of national over individual force and distinction, its turn for style, the kind of ideas that inspire its substance, its classic spirit in fine—are explained hardly less by its historic origin than by the character of the French genius itself. French painting really began in connoisseurship, one may say. It arose in appreciation, that faculty in which the French have always been, and still are, unrivalled. Its syntheses were based on elements already in combination. It originated nothing. It was eclectic at the outset. Compared with the slow and suave evolution of Italian art, in whose earliest dawn its borrowed Byzantine painting served as a stimulus and suggestion to original views of natural material rather than as a model for imitation and modification, the painting that sprang into existence, Minerva-like, in full armor, at Fontainebleau under Francis I, was of the essence of artificiality. The court of France was far more splendid than, and equally enlightened with, that of Florence. The monarch felt his title to Maecenasship as justified as that of the Medici. He created, accordingly, French painting out of hand—I mean, at all events, the French painting that stands at the beginning of the line of the present tradition. He summoned Leonardo, Andrea del Sarto, Rossi, Primaticcio, and founded the famous Fontainebleau school. Of necessity it was Italianate. It had no Giotto, Masaccio, Raphael behind it. Italian was the best art going; French appreciation was educated and keen; its choice between evolution and adoption was inevitable. It was very much in the position in which American appreciation finds itself to-day. Like our own painters, the French artists of the Renaissance found themselves familiar with masterpieces wholly beyond their power to create, and produced by a foreign people who had enjoyed the incomparable advantage of arriving at their artistic apogee through natural stages of growth, beginning with impulse and culminating in expertness.
The situation had its advantages as well as its drawbacks, certainly. It saved French painting an immense amount of fumbling, of laborious experimentation, of crudity, of failure. But it stamped it with an essential artificiality from which it did not fully recover for over two hundred years, until, insensibly, it had built up its own traditions and gradually brought about its own inherent development. In a word, French painting had an intellectual rather than an emotional origin. Its first practitioners were men of culture rather than of feeling; they were inspired by the artistic, the constructive, the fashioning, rather than the poetic, spirit. And so evident is this inclination in even contemporary French painting—and indeed in all French aesthetic expression—that it cannot be ascribed wholly to the circumstances mentioned. The circumstances themselves need an explanation, and find it in the constitution itself of the French mind, which (owing, doubtless, to other circumstances, but that is extraneous) is fundamentally less imaginative and creative than co-ordinating and constructive.
Naturally thus, when the Italian influence wore itself out, and the Fontainebleau school gave way to a more purely national art; when France had definitely entered into her Italian heritage and had learned the lessons that Holland and Flanders had to teach her as well; when, in fine, the art of the modern world began, it was an art of grammar, of rhetoric. Certainly up to the time of Gericault painting in general held itself rather pedantically aloof from poetry. Claude, Chardin, what may be called the illustrated vers de societe of the Louis Quinze painters—of Watteau and Fragonard—even Prudhon, did little to change the prevailing color and tone. Claude's art is, in manner, thoroughly classic. His personal influence was perhaps first felt by Corot. He stands by himself, at any rate, quite apart. He was the first thoroughly original French painter, if indeed one may not say he was the first thoroughly original modern painter. He has been assigned to both the French and Italian schools—to the latter by Gallophobist critics, however, through a partisanship which in aesthetic matters is ridiculous; there was in his day no Italian school for him to belong to. The truth is that he passed a large part of his life in Italy and that his landscape is Italianate. But more conspicuously still, it is ideal—ideal in the sense intended by Goethe in saying, "There are no landscapes in nature like those of Claude." There are not, indeed. Nature has been transmuted by Claude's alchemy with lovelier results than any other painter—save always Corot, shall I say?—has ever achieved. Witness the pastorals at Madrid, in the Doria Gallery at Rome, the "Dido and AEneas" at Dresden, the sweet and serene superiority of the National Gallery canvases over the struggling competition manifest in the Turners juxtaposed to them through the unlucky ambition of the great English painter. Mr. Ruskin says that Claude could paint a small wave very well, and acknowledges that he effected a revolution in art, which revolution "consisted mainly in setting the sun in heavens." "Mainly" is delightful, but Claude's excellence consists in his ability to paint visions of loveliness, pictures of pure beauty, not in his skill in observing the drawing of wavelets or his happy thought of painting sunlight. Mr. George Moore observes ironically of Mr. Ruskin that his grotesque depreciation of Mr. Whistler—"the lot of critics" being "to be remembered by what they have failed to understand"—"will survive his finest prose passage." I am not sure about Mr. Whistler. Contemporaries are too near for a perfect critical perspective. But assuredly Mr. Ruskin's failure to perceive Claude's point of view—to perceive that Claude's aim and Stanfield's, say, were quite different; that Claude, in fact, was at the opposite pole from the botanist and the geologist whom Mr. Ruskin's "reverence for nature" would make of every landscape painter—is a failure in appreciation than to have shown which it would be better for him as a critic never to have been born. It seems hardly fanciful to say that the depreciation of Claude by Mr. Ruskin, who is a landscape painter himself, using the medium of words instead of pigments, is, so to speak, professionally unjust.
"Go out, in the springtime, among the meadows that slope from the shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains. There, mingled with the taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass grows deep and free; and as you follow the winding mountain paths, beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom—paths that forever droop and rise over the green banks and mounds sweeping down in scented undulation, steep to the blue water, studded here and there with new-mown heaps, filling the air with fainter sweetness—look up toward the higher hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines."
Claude's landscape is not Swiss, but if it were it would awaken in the beholder a very similar sensation to that aroused in the reader of this famous passage. Claude indeed painted landscape in precisely this way. He was perhaps the first—though priority in such matters is trivial beside pre-eminence—who painted effects instead of things. Light and air were his material, not ponds and rocks and clouds and trees and stretches of plain and mountain outlines. He first generalized the phenomena of inanimate nature, and in this he remains still unsurpassed. But, superficially, his scheme wore the classic aspect, and neither his contemporaries nor his successors, for over two hundred years, discovered the immense value of his point of view, and the puissant charm of his way of rendering nature.
Poussin, however, was the incarnation of the classic spirit, and perhaps the reason why a disinterested foreigner finds it difficult to appreciate the French estimate of him is that no foreigner, however disinterested, can quite appreciate the French appreciation of the classic spirit in and for itself. But when one listens to expressions of admiration for the one French "old master," as one may call Poussin without invidiousness, it is impossible not to scent chauvinism, as one scents it in the German panegyrics of Goethe, for example. He was a very great painter, beyond doubt. And as there were great men before Agamemnon there have been great painters since Raphael and Titian, even since Rembrandt and Velasquez. He had a strenuous personality, moreover. You know a Poussin at once when you see it. But to find the suggestion of the infinite, the Shakespearian touch in his work seems to demand the imaginativeness of M. Victor Cherbuliez. When Mr. Matthew Arnold ventured to remark to Sainte-Beuve that he could not consider Lamartine as a very important poet, Sainte-Beuve replied: "He was important to us." Many critics, among them one severer than Sainte-Beuve, the late Edmond Scherer, have given excellent reasons for Lamartine's absolute as well as relative importance, and perhaps it is a failure in appreciation on our part that is really responsible for our feeling that Poussin is not quite the great master the French deem him. Assuredly he might justifiably apply to himself the "Et-Ego-in-Arcadia" inscription in one of his most famous paintings. And the specific service he performed for French painting and the relative rank he occupies in it ought not to obscure his purely personal qualities, which, if not transcendent, are incontestably elevated and fine.
His qualities, however, are very thoroughly French qualities—poise, rationality, science, the artistic dominating the poetic faculty, and style quite outshining significance and suggestion. He learned all he knew of art, he said, from the Bacchus Torso at Naples. But he was eclectic rather than imitative, and certainly used the material he found in the works of his artistic ancestors as freely and personally as Raphael the frescos of the Baths of Titus, or Donatello the fragments of antique sculpture. From his time on, indeed, French painting dropped its Italian leading-strings. He might often suggest Raphael—and any painter who suggests Raphael inevitably suffers for it—but always with an individual, a native, a French difference, and he is as far removed in spirit and essence from the Fontainebleau school as the French genius itself is from the Italian which presided there. In Poussin, indeed, the French genius first asserts itself in painting. And it asserts itself splendidly in him.
We who ask to be moved as well as impressed, who demand satisfaction of the susceptibility as well as—shall we say rather than?—interest of the intelligence, may feel that for the qualities in which Poussin is lacking those in which he is rich afford no compensation whatever. But I confess that in the presence of even that portion of Poussin's magnificent accomplishment which is spread before one in the Louvre, to wish one's self in the Stanze of the Vatican or in the Sistine Chapel, seems to me an unintelligent sacrifice of one's opportunities.
It is a sure mark of narrowness and defective powers of perception to fail to discover the point of view even of what one disesteems. We talk of Poussin, of Louis Quatorze art—as of its revival under David and its continuance in Ingres—of, in general, modern classic art as if it were an art of convention merely; whereas, conventional as it is, its conventionality is—or was, certainly, in the seventeenth century—very far from being pure formulary. It was genuinely expressive of a certain order of ideas intelligently held, a certain set of principles sincerely believed in, a view of art as positive and genuine as the revolt against the tyrannous system into which it developed. We are simply out of sympathy with its aim, its ideal; perhaps, too, for that most frivolous of all reasons because we have grown tired of it.
But the business of intelligent criticism is to be in touch with everything. "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner," as the French ethical maxim has it, may be modified into the true motto of aesthetic criticism, "Tout comprendre, c'est tout justifier." Of course, by "criticism" one does not mean pedagogy, as so many people constantly imagine, nor does justifying everything include bad drawing. But as Lebrun, for example, is not nowadays held up as a model to young painters, and is not to be accused of bad drawing, why do we so entirely dispense ourselves from comprehending him at all? Lebrun is, perhaps, not a painter of enough personal importance to repay attentive consideration, and historic importance does not greatly concern criticism. But we pass him by on the ground of his conventionality, without remembering that what appears conventional to us was in his case not only sincerity but aggressive enthusiasm. If there ever was a painter who exercised what creative and imaginative faculty he had with an absolute gusto, Lebrun did so. He interested his contemporaries immensely; no painter ever ruled more unrivalled. He fails to interest us because we have another point of view. We believe in our point of view and disbelieve in his as a matter of course; and it would be self-contradictory to say, in the interests of critical catholicity, that in our opinion his may be as sound as our own. But to say that he has no point of view whatever—to say, in general, that modern classic art is perfunctory and mere formulary—is to be guilty of what has always been the inherent vice of protestantism in all fields of mental activity.
Nowhere has protestantism exhibited this defect more palpably than in the course of evolution of schools of painting. Pre-Raphaelitism is perhaps the only exception, and pre-Raphaelitism was a violent and emotional counter-revolution rather than a movement characterized by catholicity of critical appreciation. Literary criticism is certainly full of similar intolerance; though when Gautier talks about Racine, or Zola about "Mes Haines," or Mr. Howells about Scott, the polemic temper, the temper most opposed to the critical, is very generally recognized. And in spite of their admirable accomplishment in various branches of literature, these writers will never quite recover from the misfortune of having preoccupied themselves as critics with the defects instead of the qualities of what is classic. Yet the protestantism of the successive schools of painting against the errors of their predecessors has something even more crass about it. Contemporary painters and critics thoroughly alive, and fully in the contemporary aesthetic current, so far from appreciating modern classic art sympathetically, are apt to admire the old masters themselves mainly on technical grounds, and not at all to enter into their general aesthetic attitude. The feeling of contemporary painters and critics (except, of course, historical critics) for Raphael's genius is the opposite of cordial. We are out of touch with the "Disputa," with angels and prophets seated on clouds, with halos and wings, with such inconsistencies as the "Doge praying" in a picture of the marriage of St. Catherine, with the mystic marriage itself. Raphael's grace of line and suave space-filling shapes are mainly what we think of; the rest we call convention. We are become literal and exacting, addicted to the pedantry of the prescriptive, if not of the prosaic.
Take such a picture as M. Edouard Detaille's "Le Reve," which won him so much applause a few years ago. M. Detaille is an irreproachable realist, and may do what he likes in the way of the materially impossible with impunity. Sleeping soldiers, without a gaiter-button lacking, bivouacking on the ground amid stacked arms whose bayonets would prick; above them in the heavens the clash of contending ghostly armies—wraiths born of the sleepers' dreams. That we are in touch with. No one would object to it except under penalty of being scouted as pitiably literal. Yet the scheme is as thoroughly conventional—that is to say, it is as closely based on hypothesis universally assumed for the moment—as Lebrun's "Triumph of Alexander." The latter is as much a true expression of an ideal as Detaille's picture. It is an ideal now become more conventional, undoubtedly, but it is as clearly an ideal and as clearly genuine. The only point I wish to make is, that Lebrun's painting—Louis Quatorze painting—is not the perfunctory thing we are apt to assume it to be. That is not the same thing, I hope, as maintaining that M. Bouguereau is significant rather than insipid. Lebrun was assuredly not a strikingly original painter. His crowds of warriors bear a much closer resemblance to Raphael's "Battle of Constantine and Maxentius" than the "Transfiguration" of the Vatican does to Giotto's, aside from the important circumstance that the difference in the latter instance shows development, while the former illustrates mainly an enfeebled variation. But there is unquestionably something of Lebrun in Lebrun's work—something typical of the age whose artistic spirit he so completely expressed.
To perceive that Louis Quatorze art is not all convention it is only necessary to remember that Lesueur is to be bracketed with Lebrun. All the sympathy which the Anglo-Saxon temperament withholds from the histrionism of Lebrun is instinctively accorded to his gentle and graceful contemporary, who has been called—faute de mieux, of course—the French Raphael. Really Lesueur is as nearly conventional as Lebrun. He has at any rate far less force; and even if we may maintain that he had a more individual point of view, his works are assuredly more monotonous to the scrutinizing sense. It is impossible to recall any one of the famous San Bruno series with any particularity, or, except in subject, to distinguish these in the memory from the sweet and soft "St. Scholastica" in the Salon Carre. With more sapience and less sensitiveness, Bouguereau is Lesueur's true successor, to say which is certainly not to affirm a very salient originality of the older painter. He had a great deal of very exquisite feeling for what is refined and elevated, but clearly it is a moral rather than an aesthetic delicacy that he exhibits, and aesthetically he exercises his sweeter and more sympathetic sensibility within the same rigid limits which circumscribe that of Lebrun. He has, indeed, less invention, less imagination, less sense of composition, less wealth of detail, less elaborateness, no greater concentration or sense of effect; and though his color is more agreeable, perhaps, in hue, it gets its tone through the absence of variety rather than through juxtapositions and balances. The truth is, that both equally illustrate the classic spirit, the spirit of their age par excellence and of French painting in general, in a supreme degree, though the conformability of the one is positive and of the other passive, so to say; and that neither illustrates quite the subserviency to the conventional which we, who have undoubtedly just as many conventions of our own, are wont to ascribe to them, and to Lebrun in particular.
Fanciful as the Louis Quinze art seems, by contrast with that of Louis Quatorze, it, too, is essentially classic. It is free enough—no one, I think, would deny that—but it is very far from individual in any important sense. It has, to be sure, more personal feeling than that of Lesueur or Lebrun. The artist's susceptibility seems to come to the surface for the first time. Watteau, Fragonard—Fragonard especially, the exquisite and impudent—are as gay, as spontaneous, as careless, as vivacious as Boldini. Boucher's goddesses and cherubs, disporting themselves in graceful abandonment on happily disposed clouds, outlined in cumulus masses against unvarying azure, are as unrestrained and independent of prescription as Monticelli's figures. Lancret, Pater, Nattier, and Van Loo—the very names suggest not merely freedom but a sportive and abandoned license. But in what a narrow round they move! How their imaginativeness is limited by their artificiality! What a talent, what a genius they have for artificiality. It is the era par excellence of dilettantism, and nothing is less romantic than dilettantism. Their evident feeling—and evidently genuine feeling—is feeling for the factitious, for the manufactured, for what the French call the confectionne. Their romantic quality is to that of the modern Fontainebleau group as the exquisite vers de societe of Mr. Austin Dobson, say, is to the turbulent yet profound romanticism of Heine or Burns. Every picture painted by them would go as well on a fan as in a frame. All their material is traditional. They simply handle it as enfants terribles. Intellectually speaking, they are painters of a silver age. Of ideas they have almost none. They are as barren of invention in any large sense as if they were imitators instead of, in a sense, the originators of a new phase. Their originality is arrived at rather through exclusion than discovery. They simply drop pedantry and exult in irresponsibility. They are hardly even a school.
Yet they have, one and all, in greater or less degree, that distinct quality of charm which is eternally incompatible with routine. They are as little constructive as the age itself, as anything that we mean when we use the epithet Louis Quinze. Of everything thus indicated one predicates at once unconsciousness, the momentum of antecedent thought modified by the ease born of habit; the carelessness due to having one's thinking done for one and the license of proceeding fancifully, whimsically, even freakishly, once the lines and limits of one's action have been settled by more laborious, more conscientious philosophy than in such circumstances one feels disposed to frame for one's self. There is no break with the Louis Quatorze things, not a symptom of revolt; only, after them the deluge! But out of this very condition of things, and out of this attitude of mind, arises a new art, or rather a new phase of art, essentially classic, as I said, but nevertheless imbued with a character of its own, and this character distinctly charming. Wherein does the charm consist? In two qualities, I think, one of which has not hitherto appeared in French painting, or, indeed, in any art whatever, namely, what we understand by cleverness as a distinct element in treatment—and color. Color is very prominent nowadays in all writing about art, though recently it has given place, in the fashion of the day, to "values" and the realistic representation of natural objects as the painter's proper aim. What precisely is meant by color would be difficult, perhaps, to define. A warmer general tone than is achieved by painters mainly occupied with line and mass is possibly what is oftenest meant by amateurs who profess themselves fond of color. At all events, the Louis Quinze painters, especially Watteau, Fragonard, and Pater—and Boucher has a great deal of the same feeling—were sensitive to that vibration of atmosphere that blends local hues into the ensemble that produces tone. The ensemble of their tints is what we mean by color. Since the Venetians this note had not appeared. They constitute, thus, a sort of romantic interregnum—still very classic, from an intellectual point of view—between the classicism of Lebrun and the still greater severity of David. Nothing in the evolution of French painting is more interesting than this reverberation of Tintoretto and Tiepolo.
By cleverness, as exhibited by the Louis Quinze painters, I do not mean mere technical ability, but something more inclusive, something relating quite as much to attitude of mind as to dexterity of treatment. They conceive as cleverly as they execute. There is a sense of confidence and capability in the way they view, as well as in the way they handle, their light material. They know it thoroughly, and are thoroughly at one with it. And they exploit it with a serene air of satisfaction, as if it were the only material in the world worth handling. Indeed, it is exquisitely adapted to their talent. So little significance has it that one may say it exists merely to be cleverly dealt with, to be represented, distributed, compared, and generally utilized solely with reference to the display of the artist's jaunty skill. It is, one may say, merely the raw material for the production of an effect, and an effect demanding only what we mean by cleverness; no knowledge and love of nature, no prolonged study, no acquaintance with the antique, for example, no philosophy whatever—unless poco-curantism be called a philosophy, which eminently it is not. To be adequate to the requirements—rarely very exacting in any case—made of one, never to show stupidity, to have a great deal of taste and an instinctive feeling for what is elegant and refined, to abhor pedantry and take gayety at once lightly and seriously, and beyond this to take no thought, is to be clever; and in this sense the Louis Quinze painters are the first, as they certainly are the typical, clever artists.
In Louis Quinze art the subject is more than effaced to give free swing to technical cleverness; it is itself contributory to such cleverness, and really a part of it. The artists evidently look on life, as they paint their pictures, as the web whereon to sketch exhibitions of skill in the composition of sensation-provoking combinations—combinations, thus, provoking sensations of the lightest and least substantial kind. When you stand before one of Fragonard's bewitching models, modishly modified into a great—or rather a little—lady, you not only note the color—full of tone on the one hand and of variety on the other, besides exhibiting the happiest selective quality in warm and yet delicate hues and tints; you not only, furthermore, observe the clever touch just poised between suggestion and expression, coquettishly suppressing a detail here, and emphasizing a characteristic there; you feel, in addition, that the entire object floats airily in an atmosphere of cleverness; that it is but a bit, an example, a miniature type of an environment wholly attuned to the note of cleverness—of competence, facility, grace, elegance, and other abstract but not at all abstruse qualities, quite unrelated to what, in any profound sense, at least, is concrete and vitally significant. Artificiality so permeated the Louis Quinze epoch, indeed, that one may say that nature itself was artificial—that is to say, all the nature Louis Quinze painters had to paint; at least all they could have been called upon to think of painting. What a distinction is, after all, theirs! To have created out of nothing, or next to nothing, something charming, and enduringly charming; something of a truly classic inspiration without dependence at bottom on the real and the actual; something as little indebted to facts and things as a fairy tale, and withal marked by such qualities as color and cleverness in so eminent a degree.
The Louis Quinze painters may be said, indeed, to have had the romantic temperament with the classic inspiration. They have audacity rather than freedom, license modified by strict limitation to the lines within which it is exercised. But there can be no doubt that this limitation is more conspicuous in their charmingly irresponsible works than is, essentially speaking, their irresponsibility itself. They never give their imagination free play. Sportive and spontaneous as it appears, it is equally clear that its activities are bounded by conservatory confines. Watteau, born on the Flemish border, is almost an exception. Temperament in him seems constantly on the verge of conquering tradition and environment. Now and then he seems to be on the point of emancipation, and one expects to come upon some work in which he has expressed himself and attested his ideality. But one is as constantly disappointed. His color and his cleverness are always admirable and winning, but his import is perversely—almost bewitchingly—slight. What was he thinking of? one asks, before his delightful canvases; and one's conclusion inevitably is, certainly as near nothing at all as can be consistent with so much charm and so much real power. As to Watteau, one's last thought is of what he would have been in a different aesthetic atmosphere, in an atmosphere that would have stimulated his really romantic temperament to extra-traditional flights, instead of confining it within the inexorable boundaries of classic custom; an atmosphere favorable to the free exercise of his adorable fancy, instead of rigorously insistent on conforming this, so far as might be, to customary canons, and, at any rate, restricting its exercise to material a la mode. A little landscape in the La Caze collection in the Louvre, whose romantic and truly poetic feeling agreeably pierces through its elegance, is eloquent of such reflections.
With Greuze and Chardin we are supposed to get into so different a sphere of thought and feeling that the change has been called a "return to nature"—that "return to nature" of which we hear so much in histories of literature as well as of the plastic arts. The notion is not quite sound. Chardin is a painter who seems to me, at least, to stand quite apart, quite alone, in the development of French painting, whereas there could not be a more marked instance of the inherence of the classic spirit in the French aesthetic nature than is furnished by Greuze. The first French painter of genre, in the full modern sense of the term, the first true interpreter of scenes from humble life—of lowly incident and familiar situations, of broken jars and paternal curses, and buxom girls and precocious children—he certainly is. There is certainly nothing regence about him. But the beginning and end of Greuze's art is convention. He is less imaginative, less romantic, less real than the painting his replaced. That was at least a mirror of the ideals, the spirit, the society, of the day. A Louis Quinze fan is a genuine and spontaneous product of a free and elastic aesthetic impulse beside one of his stereotyped sentimentalities.
The truth is, Greuze is as sentimental as a bullfinch, but he has hardly a natural note in his gamut. Nature is not only never his model, she is never his inspiration. He is distinctively a literary painter; but this description is not minute enough. His conventions are those not merely of the litterateur, but of the extremely conventional litterateur. An artless platitude is really more artificial than a clever paradox; it doesn't even cast a side-light on the natural material with which it deals. Greuze's genre is really a genre of his own—his own and that of kindred spirits since. It is as systematic and detached as the art of Poussin. The forms it embodies merely have more natural, more familiar associations. But compare one of his compositions with those of the little Dutch and Flemish masters, for truth, feeling, nature handled after her own suggestions, instead of within limits and on lines imposed upon her from without. By the side of Van Ostade or Brauer, for example, one of Greuze's bits of humble life seems like an academic composition, quite out of touch with its subject, and, except for its art, absolutely lifeless and insipid.
In a word, his choice of subjects, of genre, is really no disguise at all of his essential classicality. Both ideally and technically, in the way he conceives and the way he handles his subject, he is only superficially romantic or real. His literature, so to speak, is as conventional as his composition. One may compare him to Hogarth, though both as a moralist and a technician a longo intervallo, of course. He is assuredly not to be depreciated. His scheme of color is clear if not rich, his handling is frank if not unctuous or subtly interesting, his composition is careful and clever, and some of his heads are admirably painted—painted with a genuine feeling for quality. But his merits as well as his failings are decidedly academic, and as a romanticist he is really masquerading. He is much nearer to Fragonard than he is to Edouard Frere even.
Chardin, on the other hand, is the one distinguished exception to the general character of French art in the artificial and intellectual eighteenth century. He is as natural as a Dutchman, and as modern as Vollon. As you walk through the French galleries of the Louvre, of all the canvases antedating our own era his are those toward which one feels the most sympathetic attraction, I think. You note at once his individuality, his independence of schools and traditions, his personal point of view, his preoccupation with the object as he perceives it. Nothing is more noteworthy in the history of French art, in the current of which the subordination of the individual genius to the general consensus is so much the rule, than the occasional exception—now of a single man, now of a group of men, destined to become in its turn a school—the occasional accent or interruption of the smooth course of slow development on the lines of academic precedent. Tyrannical as academic precedent is (and nowhere has it been more tyrannical than in French painting) the general interest in aesthetic subjects which a general subscription to academic precedent implies is certainly to be credited with the force and genuineness of the occasional protestant against the very system that has been powerful enough to popularize indefinitely the subject both of subscription and of revolt. Without some such systematic propagandism of the aesthetic cultus as from the first the French Institute has been characterized by, it is very doubtful if, in the complexity of modern society, the interest in aesthetics can ever be made wide enough, universal enough, to spread beyond those immediately and professionally concerned with it. The immense impetus given to this interest by a central organ of authority, that dignifies the subject with which it occupies itself and draws attention to its value and its importance, has, a priori, the manifest effect of leading persons to occupy themselves with it, also, who otherwise would never have had their attention drawn to it. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say, in other words, that but for the Institute there would not be a tithe of the number of names now on the roll of French artists. When art is in the air—and nothing so much as an academy produces this condition—the chances of the production of even an unacademic artist are immensely increased.
So in the midst of the Mignardise of Louis Quinze painting it is only superficially surprising to find a painter of the original force and flavor of Chardin. His wholesome and yet subtle variations from the art a la mode of his epoch might have been painted in the Holland of his day, or in our day anywhere that art so good as Chardin's can be produced, so far as subject and moral and technical attitude are concerned. They are, in quite accentuated contra-distinction from the works of Greuze, thoroughly in the spirit of simplicity and directness. One notes in them at once that moral simplicity which predisposes everyone to sympathetic appreciation. The special ideas of his time seem to pass him by unmoved. He has no community of interest with them. While he was painting his still life and domestic genre, the whole fantastic whirl of Louis Quinze society, with its aesthetic standards and accomplishments—accomplishments and standards that imposed themselves everywhere else—was in agitated movement around him without in the least affecting his serene tranquillity, his almost sturdy composure. There can rarely have been such an instance as he affords of an artist's selecting from his environment just those things his own genius needed, and rejecting just what would have hampered or distracted him. He is as sane, as unsentimental, as truthful and unpretending as the most literal and unimaginative Dutchman of his time or before it; but he has also that feeling for style, and that instinct for avoiding the common and unclean which always seem to prevent French painters from "sinking with their subject," as Dutch painters have been said to do. He seems never to let himself go either in the direction of Greuze's literary and sentimental manipulation of his homely material, or in the direction of supine satisfaction with this material, unrelieved and unelevated by an individual point of view, illustrated by the Brauers and Steens and Ostades. One perceives that what he cared for was really art itself, for the aesthetic aspect and significance of the life he painted. Affectionate as his interest in it evidently was, he as evidently thought of its artistic potentialities, its capability of being treated with refinement and delicacy, and of being made to serve the ends of beauty equally well with the conventionally beautiful material of his fan-painting contemporaries. He looked at the world very originally through and over those round, horn-bowed spectacles of his, with a very shrewd and very kindly and sympathetic glance, too; quite untinctured with prejudice or even predisposition. One can read his artistic isolation in his countenance with a very little exercise of fancy.
It is the fashion to think of David as the painter of the Revolution and the Empire. Really he is Louis Seize. Historical critics say that he had no fewer than four styles, but apart from obvious labels they would be puzzled to tell to which of these styles any individual picture of his belongs. He was from the beginning extremely, perhaps absurdly, enamoured of the antique, and we usually associate addiction to the antique with the Revolutionary period. But perhaps politics are slower than the aesthetic movement; David's view of art and practice of painting were fixed unalterably under the reign of philosophism. Philosophism, as Carlyle calls it, is the ruling spirit of his work. Long before the Revolution—in 1774—he painted what is still his most characteristic picture—"The Oath of the Horatii." His art developed and grew systematized under the Republic and the Empire; but Napoleon, whose genius crystallized the elements of everything in all fields of intellectual effort with which he occupied himself, did little but formally "consecrate," in French phrase, the art of the painter of "The Oath of the Horatii" and the originator and designer of the "Fete" of Robespierre's "Etre Supreme." Spite of David's subserviency and that of others, he left painting very much where he found it. And he found it in a state of reaction against the Louis Quinze standards. The break with these, and with everything regence, came with Louis Seize, Chardin being a notable exception and standing quite apart from the general drift of the French aesthetic movement; and Greuze being only a pseudo-romanticist, and his work a variant of, rather than reactionary from, the artificiality of his day. Before painting could "return to nature," before the idea and inspiration of true romanticism could be born, a reaction in the direction of severity after the artificial yet irresponsible riot of the Louis Quinze painters was naturally and logically inevitable. Painting was modified in the same measure with every other expression in the general recueillement that followed the extravagance in all social and intellectual fields of the Louis Quinze epoch. But in becoming more chaste it did not become less classical. Indeed, so far as severity is a trait of classicality—and it is only an associated not an essential trait of it—painting became more classical. It threw off its extravagances without swerving from the artificial character of its inspiration. Art in general seemed content with substituting the straight line for the curve—a change from Louis Quinze to Louis Seize that is very familiar even to persons who note the transitions between the two epochs only in the respective furniture of each; a Louis Quinze chair or mirror, for example, having a flowing outline, whereas a Louis Seize equivalent is more rigid and rectilinear.
David is artificial, it is to be pointed out, only in his ensemble. In detail he is real enough. And he always has an ensemble. His compositions, as compositions, are admirable. They make a total impression, and with a vigor and vividness that belong to few constructed pictures. The canvas is always penetrated with David—illustrates as a whole, and with completeness and comparative flawlessness, his point of view, his conception of the subject. This, of course, is the academic point of view, the academic conception. But, as I say, his detail is surprisingly truthful and studied. His picture—which is always nevertheless a picture—is as inconceivable, as traditional in its inspiration, as factitious as you like; his figures are always sapiently and often happily exact. His portraits are absolutely vital characterizations. And in general his sculptural sense, his self-control, his perfect power of expressing what he deemed worth expressing, are really what are noteworthy in his pictures, far more than their monotonous coloration and the coldness and unreality of the pictures themselves, considered as moving, real, or significant compositions. In admiration of these it is impossible for us nowadays to go as far as even the romanticist, though extremely catholic, Gautier. They leave us cold. We have a wholly different ideal, which in order to interest us powerfully painting must illustrate—an ideal of more pertinence and appositeness to our own moods and manner of thought and feeling.
Ingres, a painter of considerably less force, I think, comes much nearer to doing this. He is more elastic, less devoted to system. Without being as free, as sensitive to impressions as we like to see an artist of his powers, he escapes pedantry. His subject is not "The Rape of the Sabines," but "The Apotheosis of Homer," academic but not academically fatuitous. To follow the inspiration of the Vatican Stanze in the selection and treatment of ideal subjects is to be far more closely in touch with contemporary feeling as to what is legitimate and proper in imaginative painting, than to pictorialize an actual event with a systematic artificiality and conformity to abstractions that would surely have made the sculptor of the Trajan column smile. Yet I would rather have "The Rape of the Sabines" within visiting distance than "The Apotheosis of Homer." It is better, at least solider, painting. The painter, however dominated by his theory, is more the master of its illustration than Ingres is of the justification of his admiration for Raphael. The "Homer" attempts more, but it is naturally not as successful in getting as effective a unity out of its greater complexity. It is in his less ambitious pictures that the genius of Ingres is unmistakably evident—his heads, his single figures, his exquisite drawings almost in outline. His "Odalisque" of the Louvre is not as forceful as David's portrait of Madame Recamier, but it is a finer thing. I should like the two to have changed subjects in this instance. His "Source" is beautifully drawn and modelled. In everything he did distinction is apparent. Inferior assuredly to David when he attempted the grand style, he had a truer feeling for the subtler qualities of style itself. All his works are linearly beautiful demonstrations of his sincerity—his sanity indeed—in proclaiming that drawing is "the probity of art."
With a few contemporary painters and critics, whose specific penetration is sometimes in curious contrast with their imperfect catholicity, he has recently come into vogue again, after having been greatly neglected since the romantic outburst. But he belongs completely to the classic epoch. Neither he nor his refined and sympathetic pupil, Flandrin, did aught to pave the way for the modern movement. Intimations of the shifting point of view are discoverable rather in a painter of far deeper poetic interest than either, spite of Ingres's refinement and Flandrin's elevation—in Prudhon. Prudhon is the link between the last days of the classic supremacy and the rise of romanticism. Like Claude, like Chardin, he stands somewhat apart; but he has distinctly the romantic inspiration, constrained and regularized by classic principles of taste. He is the French Correggio in far more precise parallelism than Lesueur is the French Raphael. With a grace and lambent color all his own—a beautiful mother-of-pearl and opalescent tone underlying his exquisite violets and graver hues; a color-scheme, on the one hand, and a sense of design in line and mass more suave and graceful than anything since the great Italians, on the other—he recalls the lovely chiaro-oscuro of the exquisite Parmesan as it is recalled in no other modern painter. Occupying, as incontestably he does, his own niche in the pantheon of painters, he nevertheless illustrates most distinctly and unmistakably the slipping away of French painting from classic formulas as well as from classic extravagance, and the tendency to new ideals of wider reach and greater tolerance—of more freedom, spontaneity, interest in "life and the world"—of a definitive break with the contracting and constricting forces of classicism. During its next period, and indeed down to the present day, French painting will preserve the essence of its classic traditions, variously modified from decade to decade, but never losing the quality in virtue of which what is French is always measurably the most classic thing going; but of this next period certainly Prudhon is the precursor, who, with all his classic serenity, presages its passion for "storms, clouds, effusion, and relief."
When we come to Scott after Fielding, says Mr. Stevenson, "we become suddenly conscious of the background." The remark contains an admirable characterization of romanticism; as distinguished from classicism, romanticism is consciousness of the background. With Gros, Gericault, Paul Huet, Michel, Delacroix, French painting ceased to be abstract and impersonal. Instead of continuing the classic detachment, it became interested, curious, and catholic. It broadened its range immensely, and created its effect by observing the relations of its objects to their environment, of its figures to the landscape, of its subjects to their suggestions even in other spheres of thought; Delacroix, Marilhat, Decamps, Fromentin, in painting the aspect of Orientalism, suggested, one may almost say, its sociology. For the abstractions of classicism, its formula, its fastidious system of arriving at perfection by exclusions and sacrifices, it substituted an enthusiasm for the concrete and the actual; it revelled in natural phenomena. Gautier was never more definitely the exponent of romanticism than in saying "I am a man for whom the visible world exists." To lines and curves and masses and their relations in composition, succeeds as material for inspiration and reproduction the varied spectacle of the external world. With the early romanticists it may be said that for the first time the external world "swims into" the painter's "ken." But, above all, in them the element of personality first appears in French painting with anything like general acceptance and as the characteristic of a group, a school, rather than as an isolated exception here and there, such as Claude or Chardin. The "point of view" takes the place of conformity to a standard. The painter expresses himself instead of endeavoring to realize an extraneous and impersonal ideal. What he himself personally thinks, how he himself personally feels, is what we read in his works.
It is true that, rightly understood, the romantic epoch is a period of evolution, and orderly evolution at that, if we look below the surface, rather than of systematic defiance and revolt. It is true that it recast rather than repudiated its inheritance of tradition. Nevertheless there has never been a time when the individual felt himself so free, when every man of any original genius felt so keenly the exhilaration of independence, when the "schools" of painting exercised less tyranny and, indeed, counted for so little. If it be exact to speak of the "romantic school" at all, it should be borne in mind that its adherents were men of the most marked and diverse individualities ever grouped under one standard. The impressionists, perhaps, apart, individuality is often spoken of as the essential characteristic of the painters of the present day. But beside the outburst of individuality at the beginning of the romantic epoch, much of the painting of the present day seems both monotonous and eccentric—the variation of its essential monotony, that is to say, being somewhat labored and express in comparison with the spontaneous multifariousness of the epoch of Delacroix and Decamps. In the decade between 1820 and 1830, at all events, notwithstanding the strength of the academic tradition, painting was free from the thraldom of system, and the imagination of its practitioners was not challenged and circumscribed by the criticism that is based upon science. Not only in the painter's freedom in his choice of subject, but in his way of treating it, in the way in which he "takes it," is the revolution—or, as I should be inclined to say, rather, the evolution—shown. And as what we mean by personality is, in general, made up far more of emotion than of mind—there being room for infinitely more variety in feeling than in mental processes among intelligent agents—it is natural to find the French romantic painters giving, by contrast with their predecessors, such free swing to personal feeling that we may almost sum up the origin of the romantic movement in French painting in saying that it was an ebullition of emancipated emotion. And, to go a step farther, we may say that, as nothing is so essential to poetry as feeling, we meet now for the first time with the poetic element as an inspiring motive and controlling force.
The romantic painters were, however, by no means merely emotional. They were mainly imaginative. And in painting, as in literature, the great change wrought by romanticism consisted in stimulating the imagination instead of merely satisfying the sense and the intellect. The main idea ceased to be as obviously accentuated, and its natural surroundings were given their natural place; there was less direct statement and more suggestion; the artist's effort was expended rather upon perfecting the ensemble, noting relations, taking in a larger circle; a suggested complexity of moral elements took the place of the old simplicity, whose multifariousness was almost wholly pictorial. Instead of a landscape as a tapestry background to a Holy Family, and having no pertinence but an artistic one, we have Corot's "Orpheus."
Gericault and Delacroix are the great names inscribed at the head of the romantic roll. They will remain there. And the distinction is theirs not as awarded by the historical estimate; it is personal. In the case of Gericault perhaps one thinks a little of "the man and the moment" theory. He was, it is true, the first romantic painter—at any rate the first notable romantic painter. His struggles, his steadfastness, his success—pathetically posthumous—have given him an honorable eminence. His example of force and freedom exerted an influence that has been traced not only in the work of Delacroix, his immediate inheritor, but in that of the sculptor Rude, and even as far as that of Millet—to all outward appearance so different in inspiration from that of his own tumultuous and dramatic genius. And as of late years we look on the stages of any evolution as less dependent on individuals than we used to, doubtless just as Luther was confirmed and supported on his way to the Council at Worms by the people calling on him from the house-tops not to deny the truth, Gericault was sustained and stimulated in the face of official obloquy by a more or less considerable aesthetic movement of which he was really but the leader and exponent. But his fame is not dependent upon his revolt against the Institute, his influence upon his successors, or his incarnation of an aesthetic movement. It rests on his individual accomplishment, his personal value, the abiding interest of his pictures. "The Raft of the Medusa" will remain an admirable and moving creation, a masterpiece of dramatic vigor and vivid characterization, of wide and deep human interest and truly panoramic grandeur, long after its contemporary interest and historic importance have ceased to be thought of except by the aesthetic antiquarian. "The Wounded Cuirassier" and the "Chasseur of the Guard" are not documents of aesthetic history, but noble expressions of artistic sapience and personal feeling.
What, I think, is the notable thing about both Gericault and Delacroix, however, as exponents, as the initiators, of romanticism, is the way in which they restrained the impetuous temperament they share within the confines of a truly classic reserve. Closely considered, they are not the revolutionists they seemed to the official classicism of their day. Not only do they not base their true claims to enduring fame upon a spirit of revolt against official and academic art—a spirit essentially negative and nugatory, and never the inspiration of anything permanently puissant and attractive—but, compared with their successors of the present day, in whose works individual preference and predilection seem to have a swing whose very freedom and irresponsible audacity extort admiration—compared with the confident temerariousness of what is known as modernite, their self-possession and sobriety seem their most noteworthy characteristics. Compared with the "Bar at the Folies-Bergere," either the "Raft of the Medusa" or the "Convulsionists of Tangiers" is a classic production. And the difference is not at all due to the forty years' accretion of Protestantism which Manet represents as compared with the early romanticists. It is due to a complete difference in attitude. Gericault imbued himself with the inspiration of the Louvre. Delacroix is said always to have made a sketch from the old masters or the antique a preliminary to his own daily work. So far from flaunting tradition, they may be said to have, in their own view, restored it; so far from posing as apostles of innovation, they may almost be accused of "harking back"—of steeping themselves in what to them seemed best and finest and most authoritative in art, instead of giving a free rein to their own unregulated emotions and conceptions.
Gericault died early and left but a meagre product. Delacroix is par excellence the representative of the romantic epoch. And both by the mass and the quality of his work he forms a true connecting link between the classic epoch and the modern—in somewhat the same way as Prudhon does, though more explicitly and on the other side of the line of division. He represents culture—he knows art as well as he loves nature. He has a feeling for what is beautiful as well as a knowledge of what is true. He is pre-eminently and primarily a colorist—he is, in fact, the introducer of color as a distinct element in French painting after the pale and bleak reaction from the Louis Quinze decorativeness. His color, too, is not merely the prismatic coloration of what had theretofore been mere chiaro-oscuro; it is original and personal to such a degree that it has never been successfully imitated since his day. Withal, it is apparently simplicity itself. Its hues are apparently the primary ones, in the main. It depends upon no subtleties and refinements of tints for its effectiveness. It is significant that the absorbed and affected Rossetti did not like it; it is too frank and clear and open, and shows too little evidence of the morbid brooding and hysterical forcing of an arbitrary and esoteric note dear to the English pre-Raphaelites. It attests a delight in color, not a fondness for certain colors, hues, tints—a difference perfectly appreciable to either an unsophisticated or an educated sense. It has a solidity and strength of range and vibration combined with a subtle sensitiveness, and, as a result of the fusion of the two, a certain splendor that recalls Saracenic decoration. And with this mastery of color is united a combined firmness and expressiveness of design that makes Delacroix unique by emphasizing his truly classic subordination of informing enthusiasm to a severe and clearly perceived ideal—an ideal in a sense exterior to his purely personal expression. In a word, his chief characteristic—and it is a supremely significant trait in the representative painter of romanticism—is a poetic imagination tempered and trained by culture and refinement. When his audacities and enthusiasms are thought of, the directions in his will for his tomb should be remembered too: "Il n'y sera place ni embleme, ni buste, ni statue; mon tombeau sera copie tres exactement sur l'antique, ou Vignoles ou Palladio, avec des saillies tres prononcees, contrairement a tout ce qui se fait aujourd'hui en architecture." "Let there be neither emblem, bust, nor statue on my tomb, which shall be copied very scrupulously after the antique, either Vignola or Palladio, with prominent projections, contrary to everything done to-day in architecture." In a sense all Delacroix is in these words.
Delacroix's color deepens into an almost musical intensity occasionally in Decamps, whose oriental landscapes and figures, far less important intellectually, far less magistrales in conception, have at times, one may say perhaps without being too fanciful, a truly symphonic quality that renders them unique. "The Suicide" is like a chord on a violin. But it is when we come to speak of the "Fontainebleau Group," in especial, I think, that the aesthetic susceptibility characteristic of the latter half of the nineteenth century feels, to borrow M. Taine's introduction to his lectures on "The Ideal in Art," that the subject is one only to be treated in poetry.
Of the noblest of all so-called "schools," Millet is perhaps the most popular member. His popularity is in great part, certainly, due to his literary side, to the sentiment which pervades, which drenches, one may say, all his later work—his work after he had, on overhearing himself characterized as a painter of naked women, betaken himself to his true subject, the French peasant. A literary, and a very powerful literary side, Millet undoubtedly has; and instead of being a weakness in him it is a power. His sentimental appeal is far from being surplusage, but, as is not I think popularly appreciated, it is subordinate, and the fact of its subordination gives it what potency it has. It is idle to deny this potency, for his portrayal of the French peasant in his varied aspects has probably been as efficient a characterization as that of George Sand herself. But, if a moral instead of an aesthetic effect had been Millet's chief intention, we may be sure that it would have been made far less incisively than it has been. Compare, for example, his peasant pictures with those of the almost purely literary painter Jules Breton, who has evidently chosen his field for its sentimental rather than its pictorial value, and whose work is, perhaps accordingly, by contrast with Millet's, noticeably external and superficial even on the literary side. When Millet ceased to deal in the Correggio manner with Correggiesque subjects, and devoted himself to the material that was really native to him, to his own peasant genius—whatever he may have thought about it himself, he did so because he could treat this material pictorially with more freedom and less artificiality, with more zest and enthusiasm, with a deeper sympathy and a more intimate knowledge of its artistic characteristics, its pictorial potentialities. He is, I think, as a painter, a shade too much preoccupied with this material, he is a little too philosophical in regard to it, his pathetic struggle for existence exaggerated his sentimental affiliations with it somewhat, he made it too exclusively his subject, perhaps. We gain, it may be, at his expense. With his artistic gifts he might have been more fortunate, had his range been broader. But in the main it is his pictorial handling of this material, with which he was in such acute sympathy, that distinguishes his work, and that will preserve its fame long after its humanitarian and sentimental appeal has ceased to be as potent as it now is—at the same time that it has itself enforced this appeal in the subordinating manner I have suggested. When he was asked his intention, in his picture of a maimed calf borne away on a litter by two men, he said it was simply to indicate the sense of weight in the muscular movement and attitude of the bearers' arms.
His great distinction, in fine, is artistic. His early painting of conventional subjects is not without significance in its witness to the quality of his talent. Another may paint French peasants all his life and never make them permanently interesting, because he has not Millet's admirable instinct and equipment as a painter. He is a superb colorist, at times—always an enthusiastic one; there is something almost unregulated in his delight in color, in his fondness for glowing and resplendent tone. No one gets farther away from the academic grayness, the colorless chiaro-oscuro of the conventional painters. He runs his key up and loads his canvas, occasionally, in what one may call not so much barbaric as uncultivated and elementary fashion. He cares so much for color that sometimes, when his effect is intended to be purely atmospheric, as in the "Angelus," he misses its justness and fitness, and so, in insisting on color, obtains from the color point of view itself an infelicitous—a colored—result. Occasionally he bathes a scene in yellow mist that obscures all accentuations and play of values. But always his feeling for color betrays him a painter rather than a moralist. And in composition he is, I should say, even more distinguished. His composition is almost always distinctly elegant. Even in so simple a scheme as that of "The Sower," the lines are as fine as those of a Raphael. And the way in which balance is preserved, masses are distributed, and an organic play of parts related to each other and each to the sum of them is secured, is in all of his large works so salient an element of their admirable excellence, that, to those who appreciate it, the dependence of his popularity upon the sentimental suggestion of the raw material with which he dealt seems almost grotesque. In his line and mass and the relations of these in composition, there is a severity, a restraint, a conformity to tradition, however personally felt and individually modified, that evince a strong classic strain in this most unacademic of painters. Millet was certainly an original genius, if there ever was one. In spite of, and in open hostility to, the popular and conventional painting of his day, he followed his own bent and went his own way. Better, perhaps, than any other painter, he represents absolute emancipation from the prescribed, from routine and formulary. But it would be a signal mistake to fail to see, in the most characteristic works of this most personal representative of romanticism, that subordination of the individual whim and isolated point of view to what is accepted, proven, and universal, which is essentially what we mean by the classic attitude. One may almost go so far as to say, considering its reserve, its restraint and poise, its sobriety and measure, its quiet and composure, its subordination of individual feeling to a high sense of artistic decorum, that, romantic as it is, unacademic as it is, its most incontestable claim to permanence is the truly classic spirit which, however modified, inspires and infiltrates it. Beside some of the later manifestations of individual genius in French painting, it is almost academic.
In Corot, anyone, I suppose, can see this note, and it would be surplusage to insist upon it. He is the ideal classic-romantic painter, both in temperament and in practice. Millet's subject, not, I think, his treatment—possibly his wider range—makes him seem more deeply serious than Corot, but he is not essentially as nearly unique. He is unrivalled in his way, but Corot is unparalleled. Corot inherits the tradition of Claude; his motive, like Claude's, is always an effect, and, like Claude's, his means are light and air. But his effect is a shade more impalpable, and his means are at once simpler and more subtle. He gets farther away from the phenomena which are the elements of his ensemble, farther than Claude, farther than anyone. His touch is as light as the zephyr that stirs the diaphanous drapery of his trees. Beside it Claude's has a suspicion, at least, of unctuousness. It has a pure, crisp, vibrant accent, quite without analogue in the technic of landscape painting. Taking technic in its widest sense, one may speak of Corot's shortcomings—not, I think, of his failures. It would be difficult to mention a modern painter more uniformly successful in attaining his aim, in expressing what he wishes to express, in conveying his impression, communicating his sensations.
That a painter of his power, a man of the very first rank, should have been content—even placidly content—to exercise it within a range by no means narrow, but plainly circumscribed, is certainly witness of limitation. "Delacroix is an eagle, I am only a skylark," he remarked once, with his characteristic cheeriness. His range is not, it is true, as circumscribed as is generally supposed outside of France. Outside of France his figure-painting, for example, is almost unknown. We see chiefly variations of his green and gray arbored pastoral—now idyllic, now heroic, now full of freshness, the skylark quality, now of grave and deep harmonies and wild, sweet notes of transitory suggestion. Of his figures we only know those shifting shapes that blend in such classic and charming manner with the glades and groves of his landscapes. Of his "Hagar in the Wilderness," his "St. Jerome," his "Flight into Egypt," his "Democritus," his "Baptism of Christ," with its nine life-size figures, who, outside of France, has even heard? How many foreigners know that he painted what are called architectural subjects delightfully, and even genre with zest?
But compared with his landscape, in which he is unique, it is plain that he excels nowhere else. The splendid display of his works in the Centenaire Exposition of the great World's Fair of 1889, was a revelation of his range of interest rather than of his range of power. It was impossible not to perceive that, surprising as were his essays in other fields to those who only knew him as a landscape painter, he was essentially and integrally a painter of landscape, though a painter of landscape who had taken his subject in a way and treated it in a manner so personal as to be really unparalleled. Outside of landscape his interest was clearly not real. In his other works one notes a certain debonnaire irresponsibility. He pursued nothing seriously but out-of-doors, its vaporous atmosphere, its crisp twigs and graceful branches, its misty distances and piquant accents, what Thoreau calls its inaudible panting. His true theme, lightly as he took it, absorbed him; and no one of any sensitiveness can ever regret it. His powers, following the indication of his true temperament, his most genuine inspiration, are concentrated upon the very finest thing imaginable in landscape painting; as, indeed, to produce as they have done the finest landscape in the history of art, they must have been.
There are, however, two things worth noting in Corot's landscape, beyond the mere fact that, better even than Rousseau, he expresses the essence of landscape, dwells habitually among its inspirations, and is its master rather than its servant. One is the way in which he poetizes, so to speak, the simplest stretches of sward and clumps of trees, and long clear vistas across still ponds, with distances whose accents are pricked out with white houses and yellow cows and placid fishers and ferrymen in red caps, seen in glimpses through curtains of sparse, feathery leafage—or peoples woodland openings with nymphs and fawns, silhouetted against the sunset glow, or dancing in the cool gray of dusk. A man of no reading, having only the elements of an education in the general sense of the term, his instinctive sense for what is refined was so delicate that we may say of his landscapes that, had the Greeks left any they would have been like Corot's. And this classic and cultivated effect he secured not at all, or only very incidentally, through the force of association, by dotting his hillsides and vaporous distances with bits of classic architecture, or by summing up his feeling for the Dawn in a graceful figure of Orpheus greeting with extended gesture the growing daylight, but by a subtle interpenetration of sensuousness and severity resulting in precisely the sentiment fitly characterized by the epithet classic. The other trait peculiar to Corot's representation of nature and expression of himself is his color. No painter ever exhibited, I think, quite such a sense of refinement in so narrow a gamut. Green and gray, of course, predominate and set the key, but he has an interestingly varied palette on the hither side of splendor whose subtleties are capable of giving exquisite pleasure. Never did anyone use tints with such positive force. Tints with Corot have the vigor and vibration of positive colors—his lilacs, violets, straw-colored hues, his almost Quakerish coquetry with drabs and slates and pure clear browns, the freshness and bloom he imparted to his tones, the sweet and shrinking wild flowers with which as a spray he sprinkled his humid dells and brook margins. But Corot's true distinction—what gives him his unique position at the very head of landscape art, is neither his color, delicate and interesting as his color is, nor his classic serenity harmonizing with, instead of depending upon, the chance associations of architecture and mythology with which now and then he decorates his landscapes; it is the blithe, the airy, the truly spiritual way in which he gets farther away than anyone from both the actual pigment that is his instrument, and from the phenomena that are the objects of his expression—his ethereality, in a word. He has communicated his sentiment almost without material, one may say, so ethereally independent of their actual analogues is the interest of his trees and sky and stretch of sward. This sentiment, thus mysteriously triumphant over color or form, or other sensuous charm, which nevertheless are only subtly subordinated, and by no manner of means treated lightly or inadequately, is as exalted as any that has in our day been expressed in any manner. Indeed, where, outside of the very highest poetry of the century, can one get the same sense of elation, of aspiring delight, of joy unmixed with regret—since "the splendor of truth" which Plato defined beauty to be, is more animating and consoling than the "weary weight of all this unintelligible world," is depressing to a spirit of lofty seriousness and sanity?
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Dupre and Diaz are the decorative painters of the Fontainebleau group. They are, of modern painters, perhaps the nearest in spirit to the old masters, pictorially speaking. They are rarely in the grand style, though sometimes Dupre is restrained enough to emulate if not to achieve its sobriety. But they have the bel air, and belong to the aristocracy of the painting world. Diaz, especially, has almost invariably the patrician touch. It lacks the exquisiteness of Monticelli's, in which there is that curiously elevated detachment from the material and the real that the Italians—and the Provencal painter's inspiration and method, as well as his name and lineage, suggest an Italian rather than a French association—exhibit far oftener than the French. But Diaz has a larger sweep, a saner method. He is never eccentric, and he has a dignity that is Iberian, though he is French rather than Spanish on his aesthetic side, and at times is as conservative as Rousseau—without, however, reaching Rousseau's lofty simplicity except in an occasional happy stroke. Both he and Dupre are primarily colorists. Dupre sees nature through a prism. Diaz's groups of dames and gallants have a jewel-like aspect; they leave the same impression as a tangle of ribbons, a bunch of exotic flowers, a heap of gems flung together with the felicity of haphazard. In general, and when they are in most completely characteristic mood, it is not the sentiment of nature that one gets from the work of either painter. It is not even their sentiment of nature—the emotion aroused in their susceptibilities by natural phenomena. What one gets is their personal feeling for color and design—their decorative quality, in a word.
The decorative painter is he to whom what is called "subject," even in its least restricted sense and with its least substantial suggestions, is comparatively indifferent. Nature supplies him with objects; she is not in any intimate degree his subject. She is the medium through which, rather than the material of which, he creates his effects. It is her potentialities of color and design that he seeks, or at any rate, of all her infinitely numerous traits, it is her hues and arabesques that strike him most forcibly. He is incurious as to her secrets and calls upon her aid to interpret his own, but he is so independent of her, if he be a decorative painter of the first rank—a Diaz or a Dupre—that his rendering of her, his picture, would have an agreeable effect, owing to its design or color or both, if it were turned upside down. Decorative painting in this sense may easily be carried so far as to seem incongruous and inept, in spite of its superficial attractiveness. The peril that threatens it is whim and freak. Some of Monticelli's, some of Matthew Maris's pictures, illustrate the exaggeration of the decorative impulse. After all, a painter must get his effect, whatever it be and however it may shun the literal and the exact, by rendering things with pigments. And some of the decorative painters only escape things by obtruding pigments, just as the trompe-l'oeil or optical illusion painters get away from pigments by obtruding things. It is the distinction of Diaz and Dupre that they avoid this danger in most triumphant fashion. On the contrary, they help one to see the decorative element in nature, in "things," to a degree hardly attained elsewhere since the days of the great Venetians. Their predilection for the decorative element is held in leash by the classic tradition, with its reserve, its measure, its inculcation of sobriety and its sense of security. Dupre paints Seine sunsets and the edge of the forest at Fontainebleau, its "long mysterious reaches fed with moonlight," in a way that conveys the golden glow, the silvery gleam, the suave outline of spreading leafage, and the massive density of mysterious boscage with the force of an almost abstract acuteness. Does nature look like this? Who knows? But in this semblance, surely, she appeared to Dupre's imagination. And doubtless Diaz saw the mother-of-pearl tints in the complexion of his models, and is not to be accused of artificiality, but to be credited with a true sincerity of selection in juxtaposing his soft corals and carnations and gleaming topaz, amethyst, and sapphire hues. The most exacting literalist can hardly accuse them of solecism in their rendering of nature, true as it is that their decorative sense is so strong as to lead them to impose on nature their own sentiment instead of yielding themselves to absorption in hers, and thus, in harmonious and sympathetic concert with her, like Claude and Corot, Rousseau and Daubigny, interpreting her subtle and supreme significance.