French Painting The 19th Century (Continued)
( Originally Published 1895 )
BOOKS RECOMMENDED: The books before mentioned, consult also General Bibliography, (page xv.)
THE LANDSCAPE PAINTERS: The influence of either the classic or romantic example may be traced in almost all of the French painting of this century. The opposed teachings find representatives in new men, and under different names the modified dispute goes on—the dispute of the academic versus the individual, the art of form and line versus the art of sentiment and color.
With the classicism of David not only the figure but the landscape setting of it, took on an ideal heroic character. Trees and hills and rivers became supernaturally grand and impressive. Everything was elevated by method to produce an imaginary Arcadia fit for the deities of the classic world. The result was that nature and the humanity of the painter passed out in favor of school formula and academic traditions. When romanticism came in this was changed, but nature falsified in another direction. Landscape was given an interest in human affairs, and made to look gay or sad, peaceful or turbulent, as the day went well or ill with the hero of the story portrayed. It was, however, truer to the actual than the classic, more studied in the parts, more united in the whole. About the year 1830 the influence of romanticism began to show in a new landscape art. That is to say, the emotional impulse springing from romanticism combined with the study of the old Dutch landscapists, and the English contemporary painters, Constable and Bonington, set a large number of painters to the close study of nature and ultimately developed what has been vaguely called the FONTAINEBLEAU-BARBIZON SCHOOL: This whole school was primarily devoted to showing the sentiment of color and light. It took nature just as it found it in the forest of Fontainebleau, on the plain of Barbizon, and elsewhere, and treated it with a poetic feeling for light, shadow, atmosphere, color, that resulted in the best landscape painting yet known to us.
Corot (1796—1875) though classically trained under Bertin, and though somewhat apart from the other men in his life, belongs with this group. He was a man whose artistic life was filled with the beauty of light and air. These he painted with great singleness of aim and great poetic charm. Most of his work is in a light silvery key of color, usually slight in composition, simple in masses of light and dark, and very broadly but knowingly handled with the brush. He began painting by using the minute brush, but changed it later on for a freer style which recorded only the great omnipresent truths and suppressed the small ones. He has never had a superior in producing the permeating light of morning and evening. For this alone, if for no other excellence, he deservedly holds high rank.
Rousseau (1812–1867) was one of the foremost of the recognized leaders, and probably the most learned landscapist of this century. A man of many moods and methods he produced in variety with rare versatility. Much of his work was experimental, but at his best he had a majestic conception of nature, a sense of its power and permanence, its volume and mass, that often resulted in the highest quality of pictorial poetry. In color he was rich and usually warm, in technic firm and individual, in sentiment at times quite sublime. At first he painted broadly and won friends among the artists and sneers from the public ; then in his middle style he painted in detail, and had a period of popular success ; in his late style he went back to the broad manner, and died amid quarrels and vexations of spirits. His long-time friend and companion, Jules Dupre (1812-1887), hardly reached up to him, though a strong painter in landscape and marine. He was a good but not great colorist, and, technically, his brush was broad enough but sometimes heavy. His late work is inferior in sentiment and labored in handling. Diaz (1808–1876) was allied to Rousseau in aim and method, though not so sure nor so powerful a painter. He had fancy and variety in creation that sometimes ran to license, and in color he was clear and brilliant. Never very well trained, his drawing is often indifferent and his light distorted, but these are more than atoned for by delicacy and poetic charm. At times he painted with much power. Daubigny (1817–1878) seemed more like Corot in his charm of style and love of atmosphere and light than any of the others. He was fond of the banks of the Seine and the Marne at twilight, with evening atmospheres and dark trees standing in silent ranks against the warm sky. He was also fond of the gray day along the coast, and even the sea attracted him not a little. He was a painter of high abilities, and in treatment strongly individual, even distinguished, by his simplicity and directness. Unity of the whole, grasp of the mass entire, was his technical aim, and this he sought to get not so much by line as by color-tones of varying value. In this respect he seemed a connecting link between Corot and the present-day impressionists. Michel (1763–1842), Huet (1804–1869), Chintreuil (1814–1873), and Francais (1814–) were all allied in point of view with this group of landscape painters, and among the late men who have carried out their beliefs are Cazin, You, Damoye, and others. Harpignies and Pelouse seem a little more inclined to the realistic than the poetic view, though producing work of much virility and intelligence.
Contemporary and associated with the Fontainebleau painters were a number of men who won high distinction as PAINTERS OF ANIMALS: Troyon (1810–1865) was the most prominent among them. His work shows the same sentiment of light and color as the Fontainebleau landscapists, and with it there is much keen insight into animal life. As a' technician he was rather hard at first, and he never was a correct draughtsman, but he had a way of giving the character of the objects he portrayed which is the very essence of truth. He did many landscapes with and without cattle. His best pupil was Van Marcke (1827–1890), who followed his methods but never possessed the feeling of his master. Jacque (1813–*) is also of the Fontainebleau-Barbizon group, and is justly celebrated for his paintings and etchings of sheep. The poetry of the school is his, and technically he is fine in color at times, if often rather dark in illumination. Like Troyon he knows his subject well, and can show the nature of sheep with true feeling. Rosa Bonheur (1822–) and her brother, Auguste Bonheur (1824-1884), have both dealt with animal life, but never with that fine artistic feeling which would warrant their popularity. Their work is correct enough, but prosaic and commonplace in spirit. They do not belong in the same group with Troyon and Rousseau.
THE PEASANT PAINTERS: Allied again in feeling and sentiment with the Fontainebleau landscapists were some celebrated painters of peasant life, chief among whom stood Millet (1814-1875), of Barbizon. The pictoral inclination of Millet was early grounded by a study of Delacroix, the master romanticist, and his work is an expression of romanticism modified by an individual study of nature and applied to peasant life. He was peasant born, living and dying at Barbizon, sympathizing with his class, and painting them with great poetic force and simplicity. His sentiment sometimes has a literary bias, as in his far-famed but indifferent Angelus, but usually it is strictly pictorial and has to do with the beauty of light, air, color, motion, life, as shown in The Sower or The Gleaners. Technically he was not strong as a draughtsman or a brushman, but he had a large feeling for form, great simplicity in line, keen perception of the relations of light and dark, and at times an excellent color-sense. He was virtually the discoverer of the peas-ant as an art subject, and for this, as for his original point of view and artistic feeling, he is ranked as one of the fore-most artists of the century.
Jules Breton (1827-), though painting little besides the peasantry, is no Millet follower, for he started painting peasant scenes at about the same time as Millet. His affinities were with the New-Greeks early in life, and ever since he has inclined toward the academic in style, though handling the rustic subject. He is a good technician, except in his late work ; but as an original thinker, as a pictorial poet, he does not show the intensity or profundity of Millet. The followers of the Millet-Breton tradition are many. The blue frocked and sabot-shod peasantry have appeared in salon and gallery for twenty years and more, but with not very good results. The imitators, as usual, have caught at the subject and missed the spirit. Billet and Legros, contemporaries of Millet, still living, and Lerolle, a man of present-day note, are perhaps the most consider-able of the followers.
THE SEMI-CLASSICISTS: It must not be inferred that the classic influence of David and Ingres disappeared from view with the coming of the romanticists, the Fontainebleau landscapists, and the Barbizon painters. On the contrary, side by side with these men, and opposed to them, were the believers in line and academic formulas of the beautiful. The whole tendency of academic art in France was against Delacroix, Rousseau, and Millet. During their lives they were regarded as heretics in art and without the pale of the Academy. Their art, however, combined with nature study and the realism of Courbet, succeeded in modifying the severe classicism of Ingres into what has been called semi-classicism. It consists in the elevated, heroic, or historical theme, academic form well drawn, some show of bright colors, smoothness of brush-work, and precision and nicety of detail. In treatment it attempts the realistic, but in spirit it is usually stilted, cold, unsympathetic.
Cabanel (1823–1889) and Bouguereau (1825–) have both represented semi-classic art well. They are justly ranked as famous draughtsmen and good portrait-painters, but their work always has about it the stamp of the academy machine, a something done to order, knowing and exact, but lacking in the personal element. It is a weakness of the academic method that it virtually banishes the individuality of eye and hand in favor of school formulas. Cabanel and Bouguereau have painted many incidents of classic and historic story, but with never a dash of enthusiasm or a suggestion of the great qualities of painting. Their drawing has been as thorough as could be asked for, but their colorings have been harsh and their brushes cold and thin.
Gerome (1824–) is a man of classic training and inclination, but his versatility hardly allows him to be classified anywhere. He was first a leader of the New-Greeks, painting delicate mythological subjects ; then a historical painter, showing deaths of Caesar and the like ; then an Orientalist, giving scenes from Cairo and Constantinople ; then a genre painter, depicting contemporary subjects in the many lands through which he has travelled. Whatever he has done shows semi-classic drawing, ethnological and archaeological knowledge, Parisian technic, and exact detail. His travels have not changed his precise scientific point of view. He is a true academician at bottom, but a more versatile and cultured painter than either Cabanel or Bouguereau. He draws well, sometimes uses color well, and is an excellent painter of textures. A man of great learning in many departments he is no painter to be sneered at, and yet not a painter to make the pulse beat faster or to arouse the aesthetic emotions. His work is impersonal, objective fact, showing a brilliant exterior but inwardly devoid of feeling.
Paul Baudry (1828-1886), though a disciple of line, was not precisely a semi-classicist, and perhaps for that reason was superior to any of the academic painters of his time. He was a follower of the old masters in Rome more than the Peales Beaux Arts. His subjects, aside from many splendid portraits, were almost all classical, allegorical, or mythological. He was a fine draughtsman, and, what is more remarkable in conjunction therewith, a fine colorist. He was hardly a great originator, and had not passion, dramatic force, or much sentiment, except such as may be found in his delicate coloring and rhythm of line. Nevertheless he was an artist to be admired for his purity of purpose and breadth of accomplishment. His chief work is to be seen in the Opera at Paris. Puvis de Chavannes (1824–) is quite a different style of painter, and is remarkable for fine delicate tones of color which hold their place well on wall or ceiling, and for a certain grandeur of composition. In his desire to revive the monumental painting of the Renaissance he has met with much praise and much blame. He is an artist of sincerity and learning, and as a wall-painter has no superior in contemporary France.
Hebert (1817–), an early painter of academic tendencies, and Henner (1829–), fond of form and yet a brushman with an idyllic feeling for light and color in dark surroundings, are painters who may come under the semi-classic grouping. Lefebvre (1834–) is probably the most pronounced in academic methods among the present men, a draughtsman of ability.
PORTRAIT AND FIGURE PAINTERS: Under this heading may be included those painters who stand by themselves, showing no positive preference for either the classic or romantic followings. Bonnat (1833–) has painted all kinds of subjects—genre, figure, and historical pieces—but is perhaps best known as a portrait-painter. He has done forcible work. Some of it indeed is astonishing in its realistic modelling—the accentuation of light and shadow often causing the figures to advance unnaturally. From this feature and from his de-tail he has been known for years as a " realist." His anatomical Christ on the Cross and mural paintings in the Pantheon are examples. As a portrait-painter he is accept-able, if at times a little raw in color. Another portrait-painter of celebrity is Carolus-Duran (1837–). He is rather startling at times in his portrayal of robes and draperies, has a facility of the brush that is frequently deceptive, and in color is sometimes vivid. He has had great success as a teacher, and is, all told, a painter of high rank. Delaunay (1828–1892) in late years painted little besides portraits, and was one of the conservatives of French art. Laurens (1838–) has been more of a historical painter than the others, and has dealt largely with death scenes. He is often spoken of as " the painter of the dead," a man of sound training and excellent technical power. Regnault (1843–1871) was a figure and genre painter with much feeling for oriental light and color, who unfortunately was killed in battle at twenty-seven years of age. He was an artist of promise, and has left several notable canvases. Among the younger men who portray the historical subject in an elevated style there are only a few that can be mentioned here. Cormon (1845–), a painter of portraits as well as of history, is one of the most promising ;Benjamin-Constant (1845–) has ability ; and Rochegrosse, a still younger man, bids fair for future achievement.
THE REALISTS: About the time of the appearance of Millet, say 1848, there also came to the front a man who scorned both classicism and romanticism, and maintained that the only model and subject of art should be nature. This man, Courbet (1819–1878), really gave a third tendency to the art of this century in France, and his influence undoubtedly had much to do with modifying both the classic and romantic tendencies. Courbet was a man of arrogant, dogmatic disposition, and was quite heartily detested during his life, but that he was a painter of great ability few will deny. His theory was the abolition of both sentiment and academic law, and the taking of nature just as it was, with all its beauties and all its deformities. This, too, was his practice to a certain extent. His art is material, and yet at times lofty in conception even to the sublime. And while he believed in realism he did not believe in petty detail, but rather in the great truths of nature. These he saw with a discerning eye and portrayed with a masterful brush. He believed in what he saw only, and had more the observing than the reflective or emotional disposition. As a technician he was coarse but superbly strong, handling sky, earth, air, with the ease and power of one well trained in his craft. His subjects were many—the peasantry of France, landscape, and the sea holding prominent places—and his influence, though not direct because he had no pupils of consequence, has been most potent with the late men.
The young painter of to-day who does things in a " realistic " way is frequently met with in French art. L'Hermitte (1844–), Julien Dupre (1851–), and others have handled the the peasant subject with skill, after the Millet-Courbet initiative ; and Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884) excited a good deal of admiration in his lifetime for the truth and evident sincerity of his art. Bastien's point of view was realistic enough, but somewhat material. He never handled the large composition with success, but in small pieces and in portraits he was quite above criticism. His following among the young men was considerable, and the so-called impressionists have ranked him among their disciples or leaders.
PAINTERS OF MILITARY SCENES, GENRE, ETC : The art of Meissonier (1815-1891), while extremely realistic in modern detail, probably originated from a study of the seventeenth-century Dutchmen like Terburg and Metsu. It does not portray low life, but rather the half - aristocratic —the scholar, the cavalier, the gentleman of leisure. This is done on a small scale with microscopic nicety, and really more in the historical than the genre spirit. Single figures and interiors were his preference, but he also painted a cycle of Napoleonic battle-pictures with much force. There is little or no sentiment about his work—little more than in that of Gerome. His success lay in exact technical accomplishment. He drew well, painted well, and at times was a superior colorist. His art is more admired by the public than by the painters ; but even the latter do not fail to praise his skill of hand. He was a great craftsman in the infinitely little. As a great artist his rank is still open to question.
The genre painting of fashionable life has been carried out by many followers of Meissonier, whose names need not be mentioned since they have not improved upon their fore-runner. Toulmouche (1829-), Leloir (1843-1884), Vibert (1840-), Bargue (?-1883), and others, though somewhat different from Meissonier, belong among those painters of genre who love detail, costumes, stories, and pretty faces. Among the painters of military genre mention should be made of De Neuville (1836-1885), Berne-Bellecour (1838-), Detaille (1848-), and Aime-Morot (1850-), all of them painters of merit.
Quite a different style of painting—half figure-piece half genre—is to be found in the work of Ribot (1823–), a strong painter, remarkable for his apposition of high flesh lights with deep shadows, after the manner of Ribera, the Spanish painter. Roybet (1840–) is fond of rich stuffs and tapestries with velvet-clad characters in interiors, out of which he makes good color effects. Bonvin (1817–1887) and Mettling have painted the interior with small figures, copper-kettles, and other still-life that have given brilliancy to their pictures. As a still-life painter Vollon (1833–) has never had a superior. His fruits, flowers, armors, even his small marines and harbor pieces, are painted with one of the surest brushes of this century. He is called the " painter's painter," and is a man of great force in handling color, and in large realistic effect. Dantan and Friant have both produced canvases showing figures in interiors.
A number of excellent genre painters have been claimed by the impressionists as belonging to their brotherhood. There is little to warrant the claim, except the adoption to some extent of the modern ideas of illumination and flat painting. Dagnan-Bouveret (1852–) is one of these men, a good draughtsman, and a finished clean painter who by his re-cent use of high color finds himself occasionally looked upon as an impressionist. As a matter of fact he is one of the most conservative of the moderns—a man of feeling and imagination, and a fine technician. Fantin-Latour (1836–) is half romantic, half allegorical in subject, and in treatment oftentimes designedly vague and shadowy, more suggestive than realistic. Duez (1843–) and Gervex (1848–) are perhaps nearer to impressionism in their works than the others, but they are not at all advance advocates of this latest phase of art. They are both painters of rank.
THE IMPRESSIONISTS: The name is a misnomer. Every painter is an impressionist in so far as he records his impressions, and all art is impressionistic. What Manet (1833–_1883), the leader of the original movement, meant to say was that nature should not be painted as it actually is, but as it " impresses " the painter. He and his few followers tried to change the name to Independents, but the original name has clung to them and been mistakenly fastened to a present band of landscape painters who are seeking effects of light and air and should be called luminists if it is necessary for them to be named at all. Manet was extravagant in method and disposed toward low life for a subject, which has always militated against his popularity ; but he was a very important man for his technical discoveries regarding the relations of light and shadow, the flat appearance of nature, the exact value of color tones. Some of his works, like The Boy with a Sword and The Toreador Dead, are excellent pieces of painting. The higher imaginative qualities of art Manet made no great effort at attaining.
Degas stands quite by himself, strong in effects of motion, especially with race-horses, fine in color, and a delightful brushman in such subjects as ballet-girls and scenes from the theatre. Besnard is one of the best of the present men. He deals with the figure, and is usually concerned with the problem of harmonizing color under conflicting lights, such as twilight and lamplight. Beraud and Raffaelli are exceedingly clever in street scenes and character pieces ; Pissarro handles the peasantry in high color ; Brown (1829-1890), the race-horse, and Renoir, the middle class of social life. Caillebotte, Roll, Forain, and Miss Cassatt, an American, are also classed with the impressionists.
IMPRESSIONIST LANDSCAPE PAINTERS: Of recent years there has been a disposition to change the key of light in landscape painting, to get nearer the truth of nature in the height of light and in the height of shadows. In doing this Claude Monet, the present leader of the movement, has done away with the dark brown or black shadow and substituted the light-colored shadow, which is nearer the actual truth of nature. In trying to raise the pitch of light he has not been quite so successful, though accomplishing something. His method is to use pure prismatic colors on the principle that color is light in a decomposed form, and that its proper juxtaposition on canvas will recompose into pure light again. Hence the use of light shadows and bright colors. The aim of these modern men is chiefly to gain the effect of light and air. They do not apparently care for subject, detail, or composition.
At present their work is in the experimental stage, but from the way in which it is being accepted and followed by the painters of today we may be sure the movement is of considerable importance. There will probably be a reaction in favor of more form and solidity than the present men give, but the high key of light will be retained. There are so many painters following these modern methods, not only in France but all over the world, that a list of their names would be impossible. In France Sisley with Monet are the two important landscapists. In marines Boudin and Montenard should be mentioned.
PRINCIPAL WORKS: The modern French painters are seen to advantage in the Louvre, Luxembourg, Pantheon, Sorbonne, and the municipal galleries of France. Also Metropolitan Museum New York, Chicago Art Institute, Boston Museum, and many private collections in France and America. Consult for works in public or private hands, Champlin and Perkins, Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, under names of artists.