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The Eclectics

[Courbet, Whistler, And Manet]  [Leonardo, Raphael, And Michelangelo]  [Renaissance In Venice]  [The French Tradition]  [El Greco And Rubens]  [The Impressionists]  [Fauves And Cubists]  [The Post-Impressionists]  [Renaissance In Florence]  [The Expressionists]  [Art Before Giotto]  [Giotto And Fra Angelico]  [The Eclectics] 

The painters grouped in this chapter have been termed by some critics The Eclectics. This is an excellent term, since it conveys at once the intentions of the artists to select all the good points of all the schools coming before them. If they succeeded only in rehashing and combining various styles and personalities, however, their work would achieve no more dignity and worth than that of the "artists" who copy the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. They use the principles, the personality is their own.

Derain is one of the best known painters of this group. It is difficult to select a picture for reproduction which will embody all his aims and preoccupations. Like the even more celebrated Picasso,* he has worked in many styles and is catalogued according to many periods. First a member of the Fauves, he made use of the heavy black Fauvian line to achieve rhythm and design. Then came his most colorful period, in which he put to great use the lessons of Cezanne. Using the same color and the same technique as the "Old Man of Aix," he added to them a severe geometric sense dating back to Seurat.

This theory of complementary planes of vivid color and rigid forms he seems now to have definitely abandoned. He has emerged a "Neo-Old Master," painting in soft red browns and giving to his figure studies and heads a Rembrandtesque quality (Fig. 48). The flesh which he paints does not scintillate; it is of a unified sepia warmth, the passages (or modeling) subtle, and the form held together by a broken, sensitive line recalling Rembrandt's drawings.

* Picasso is not properly an eclectic. He belongs to almost all schools, not as a follower but as a leader. Of all modern innovators he is perhaps the most fertile. The scope of this book does not permit an exposition of his many styles and ideas and periods, all of them extremely interesting but for the most part better exemplified in the single track preoccupations of more simple painters. His recent or "Neo-Classical" period is perhaps his fullest attainment. Here he transposes Greek figures into modern forms. He will paint a Juno in a flat fiery pink and in much ampler form than the Greek ideal. Conservative critics fail to see the connection between these inflated Greek goddesses and modernist principles. We may recall that every revival of Classicism, however much it aims at eternity, bears markedly the stamp of its time and place. The British Pre-Raphaelites -were more 1870 British than 1500 Florentine. Similarly classical Greek ideals are translated by Picasso into the idiom of modern painting.

Derain's later landscapes come from the same point of view and from the same palette as his figure studies. Low in tone they are dignified. Brown and deep green seem to exclude all other colors, like many old Dutch scenes. They differ, however, in their bold design and rhythm, in their swelling form and unrealistic organization. They retain the quality of the museum picture while belonging to presentday expression.

Othon Friesz is another member of the Fauves but one who almost from the beginning of his career struck his distinctly personal style. He has combined the rhythmic line of Matisse with the planes of color and spatial relation of Cezanne. He is one of the few Cezannists who has not used the master's theories in a superficial way. He has not prettified Cezanne, as most English and American Cezannists feel compelled to do. His paintings are honest in point of view and are not a popular art, his sense of rhythm endowing them with classical composition and movement.

In his Port of Toulon, we see the use of heavy black lines characteristic of the Fauves. The drawing, however, is not distorted. The principal beauty of the canvas is its movement, the design of line, or rhythms, carrying us around and around the harbor. The bustle of the port is transmitted to us. The point of view is impressionistic. There is little intellectual theory; only a rapid statement of nature, but extremely well ordered and honestly presented.

Andre Lhote is the intellectual painter of theories and traditions. His relation to the group is similar to the relation Seurat bore to the Post-Impressionists. Both painters are linked by their bent for rigid geometrical forms. But the Modernist has added to the theories of his predecessor. Where Seurat was content to achieve geometrical pattern, Lhote has attempted action.

The problem of securing action or movement by rigid, mechanical patterns seems at first glance unlikely of solution. Botticelli demonstrated the efficacy of rhythmic line in securing movement, but graceful line naturally lends itself to the suggestion of flight, the soaring bird, the leaping animal, the flowing gown. Raphael's patterns linking one figure to another by areas of similar color also achieve an impression of activity, but they are pliable, almost liquid in contour. Lhote fused one color pattern into another but he counted mainly upon rhythm to perform its ancient services in a modern cause; with what success we may see in the picture, Football.

We are made to feel the play and not the individual figures. The realistic painters of battle scenes, whose works stock our museums, achieved only portraits of individuals in arrested action, which is after all static. In this experiment of Lhote's, on the other hand, the individual is only part of the play and does not exist by himself. Yet the picture does not hold us for long. A flatness which amounts almost to emptiness discourages our curiosity. The figures, lacking form, cannot keep our interest.

Apparently the artist himself felt the deficiencies of his theory. He eventually abandoned this use of flat patterns in action and has gone to the other extreme in securing form. He now employs cubist principles to a limited extent. The outlines of his forms are stylized and conventional but he does not remove parts of things from the whole; the natural order remains undisturbed. He does not use lines and forms abstractly, he only simplifies, interprets, or "purifies" them. Instead of drawing an arm, for instance, in the usual, literal way, to show the muscular formation, the Purist will reduce the contour to precise round and straight lines.

We reproduce Lhote's Concert as an example of Purism. The presence of traditional qualities is at once apparent. In the painting of the sailor playing the concertina, the form bulges. Though in no way resembling them, it is yet reminiscent of the figures of Michelangelo. The planes and volumes are sculptural. Spatial relation too is skillfully achieved. And in addition, there is the most inventive design or pattern. Where the picture fails to maintain its distinction is in its lack of vitality or freshness. To us it smacks too much of the mathematical problem correctly worked out. It is too schematic. A certain spirit is lacking.

In direct contrast to Lhote is Vlaminck. His pictures have the hasty, emotional quality of a painting by Van Gogh, without at all resembling it in technique. They are essentially impressionistic, like the pictures of Friesz. In color, however, they are unlike anything of the Impressionists or Post-Impressionists. Critics point to Vlaminck's descent from Flemish stock to explain the characteristics of his work which are foreign to Paris. His chiaroscuro, or strong vilues of light and shade, is traced back to Rembrandt. But this romantic quality is present in the work of all the dramatist-painters, notably Leonardo and El Greco. However, the critics are not to be gainsaid. Certainly the blue which dominates many of his canvases is Antwerp blue.

While not concerned with the theories current among French Modernists, Vlaminck is modern nevertheless by virtue of his efforts to simplify almost to flat areas of color whatever is before him. What is even more important is his success in achieving spatial relations. He profits somewhat from the lessons of Cezanne. While his color is entirely different, making no use of the principle of warm and cool planes, his brush builds the surface into planes, and his darks and lights set each other off in much the same way as Cezanne's contrasting color does. What Vlaminck does not possess is Cezanne's conscientious thoroughness. He achieves his effects in a clever, facile way, so that his pictures have the rapid brilliant charm, as well as the limitations, of a sketch (Fig. 52). Vitality is their principal possession. You have only to turn from a National Academy exhibition of sickly sweet, false and anaemic landscapes to one of Vlaminck's pictures, to realize how far above mere technical accomplishment an artist's honest and personal way of seeing things can be.

The Polish-Jewish painter Kisling is not quite as objective as Vlaminck. He pretends to be not at all concerned with theories, but they have crept into his portraits in spite of himself. His rhythm is almost as well thought out as Modigliani's. His understanding of form is deserving of every painter's respect. His warm glowing color, while not as inventive, is as personal as is that of Matisse. He wishes to be objective and scientific, but a pronounced sentimentality invades his canvases, giving to his urchins and little working-girls much of his own pitying reaction to their poor or meaningless lives. He is as tender as Vlaminck is romantic; but both have sufficient command of their medium to escape the stigma of the term "literary."

There are in America more than a few painters who can paint a head quite as well as the one of Kisling's here reproduced (Fig-54). But few would dare to paint a hand and arm in such simple geometric shapes as this hand and arm possess. Nor could fashionable painters understand the necessity for the design of line which does not enhance the beauty of the girl. In painting the shawl they would work furiously to catch its texture correctly, but how many would think of making the line important? Here the wavy line repeats the similar line made by the face and neck. It carries the eye directly to the face. Its importance is due to the fact that all the other lines are either severely curved or severely straight, without variations. It is the picture which is important to Kisling, not the girl.*

* Some revision of these estimates is necessitated by the painters' recent performances. While wishing to retract nothing we must add the fact that men of Vlaminck's stature seem to have succumbed to the universal demand for factory production. Every little boutique of a gallery on the left bank of Paris, every art-bookshop possesses in common with the important dealers one or more Vlamineks. It is hardly necessary to say that they are for the most part too hastily produced and minus inspiration. They have the character of autographs and much the same significance. Painters now speak of Vlaminck's "earlier stuff."

Even worse is true of Kisling. Just as prolific as his confrere, he has definitely bowed down to success. His wistful little children have grown into drooping, pleading, sad-eyed Mimis. Sickly prettiness seems the end desired; to it is sacrificed the subtle full form and delicacy of line Which marked the painter's earlier periods.

An intelligent painter who is not concerned with intellectual theories is Segonzac. He wishes only to put down what is before him. Confronted with nature he is calm and simple, neither emotional nor distressed. Rembrandt seems to have influenced him more than has any contemporary. In his still-life studies there are the rich browns of the Flemish and Dutch School, the same point of view combined with a freedom in technique almost as great as Vlaminck's. But although he brings up-to-date the northern attention to somber still-life studies, he seems at his best in his simple paintings of the outdoors. Here he shows his love for thick, juicy gray paint, as well as his love of trees and quiet streams. In a world of sophistication and isms, his pictures have a sanity and freshness which delight us. His painting is neither sentimental nor romantic. He himself would term it realism. It is by no means the same realism that pervades the finicky photographic pictures of the realists of 1850. This we can see in the landscape reproduced.

There is in it a rhythm which owes a great deal to the Fauves. Yet its rustic feeling removes it from the ateliers of Paris. The artist is close to nature. And that he loves as well the actual medium with which he works is shown by the way the appetizing pigment is piled on.

There is no pretension here, as there is not elsewhere in this book, to include the names of all deserving painters. It suffices us to mention only the representatives of certain forms of the art. Today in Paris new painters are coming to the fore who possess as much ability as those mentioned here without in any way revealing new departures. It is true that the Surrealists remain the most novel of all the innovators, displaying such astounding ingenuity and enterprise as to attract still, in this day of blase indifference, the ire of critics. They have learned too the advisibility of cooperative marketing and organization so that their exhibitions instead of being the puny individualistic "one-man" shows which nobody visits, are a whole barracks-full of astounding brain children-glass eyes stuck on painted faces, drawings done in piano wire and other amusing and ingenious divertisements which give the exhibition the allure of the circus. Nevertheless much fine art is sprinkled about in this Surrealist bombardment of the placid bourgeois.

Coming back to the Eclectics, who it goes without saying, see utter dissolution in Surrealism, we might mention the names of a few of the younger painters who merit a place in the company of those already introduced. Per Krogh and Willy Eisenschitz are two foreign artists who are paying their debt to Paris by infusing its art with a vitality sorely needed in this, it seems to us, twilight of a glorious tradition.