Brooklyn, Institute of Arts and Sciences - Part 2
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE Museum has a splendid collection of paintings by American artists. Some of the pictures are of peculiar interest, as they represent rather unusual moods of the artists. "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" is perhaps the most uniquely original picture that George Inness ever painted. No words can describe his subtle portrayal of gloom vibrant with hope. The blue haze that envelopes the crags and hovers over the abyss seems to dissolve from the white-robed figure of the Savior, and as we fix our eyes on the Holy One our fears fall away and a feeling of elation lifts us to the heights. It is strange that such a vision should have come to an artist who had spent his life picturing scenes familiar to each one of us. Was it because he was nearing that country from which no traveler returns that a new inspiration came to him?
Winslow Homer's "Unruly Calf" (Fig. 83) is a treasure of rare value to the Museum. Not often did Homer make so perfect a genre picture as this—a simple, usual occurrence in the life of a half-grown farmer boy. How well Homer understood that no animal is more likely to take a sudden stand for no earthly reason than a half-grown calf—particularly a pet one—and that no brute, for its size, can be more firmly rooted to the ground. Its four legs are so many posts set to brace each other. Why the animal stops no one can tell. It is sheer stupidity, I suspect. The boy may pull and twist at the rope with all his strength ; but what cares that big-eyed quadruped for a rope around his neck? The scene is delicious in its entire truth to nature. The atmosphere of the country is perfect; the disgust of the boy and the contrariness of the calf are simply bits of real life that make us forget everything but the outcome of the struggle between the two. Homer knew that especial episode well ; perhaps he is the very boy who was sent to bring the calf home. The whiff of the country that such a picture brings is a veritable tonic to tired bodies and fagged brains.
John La Farge stands alone in the modern art world—a painter, a mural decorator, a discoverer of the adaptability of opaline glass, and a writer. Yet he entered his career under protest, for, as he said, "No one has struggled more against his destiny than I; nor did I for many years acquiesce in being a painter, though I learned the methods and studied the problems of my art. I had hoped to find some other mode of life, some other way of satisfying the desire for a contemplation of truth, unbiased, free, and detached."
La Farge was a dreamer and a student, and these opposite qualities gave him the double power of one "who not only sees the world as a pageant of colored light, but has found means to express his visions." One characteristic of his art was the pose or gesture of his figures. Although he had made a special study of anatomy, he never allowed his scientific knowledge to interfere with the significance of the emotion he wished to express. This thought is admirably brought out in the examples of his work in the Museum. In "Adoration" (Fig. 84) the pose of the figure to the minutest detail is suggestive of the most exalted; worship of a Higher Being. The elongated body is in perfect harmony with the uplift of the soul, as, expressed in the shining face. Our eyes follow easily and naturally the long folds of the white robe from the extended foot to the raised hands—the hands alone express adoration—and the lifted head. The stained glass window from this painting is in the Church of the Paulist Fathers, Columbus Ave. and 59th Street, New York City.
She is certainly a dainty miss sitting "In the Studio" (Fig. 85) turning the leaves of the pattern book. Mr. Chase never gave a more personal note to a young woman than he has to this one. She simply dominates the studio. There are many interesting objects around the room that might claim our attention were it not for her presence. And what a picture it is—painted with all the abandon of the painter-artist ! The inspiration came suddenly, no doubt; the girl and the book, perhaps, unexpectedly fell into position and the picture immediately shaped itself in the artist's mind. Mr. Chase's alert artistic sense has made him particularly sensitive to the pictorial qualities of bits of still life, of dainty interiors, of busy back-yards, and monotonous stretches of. low bushes and sand dunes ; he has made them all sing under his magic brush.
A recent accession to the Museum is "Iridescent Moonlight" (Fig. 86), by Julius Olsson. The picture was exhibited in the Winter Exhibition of the National Academy, New York City (1914). When Mr. Olsson chooses old ocean as his theme he is throwing out a challenge that might be accepted by the lovers of Winslow Homer. Not often, how-ever, did Homer woo the mighty deep in so playful a mood as Mr. Olsson has here pictured it. The coming of the tide under the fitful glances of the moon, the artful charmer, is as merry a dance of wavelets as one ever sees. One moment every tiny crest laughs and sparkles with an iridescence rivaling the opal; then suddenly the tiny waves darken and viciously dash against each other-what care they for fun when their mistress has hidden her face. Mr. Olsson has caught Mistress Moon unawares and has transferred to his canvas the opalescent splendors of her silvery light on the restless waters.
Landscape painting really began its existence in Holland, and even to-day the Dutch landscapists hold a prominent place among modern landscape painters. Their themes of flat polders, low-lying hillocks, shaded pools, and windmills against a moist sky are intimate pictures of the sturdy little sea-locked country, and from these pictures we learn to know her and love her.
Some of the Dutch artists seem to prefer the evervarying aspects of land and waters and no spot on earth changes more often in a small space; others love the dooryard and its barking, cackling noises ; always the home element is dear to these artists. De Bock sees nature in her contented mood when the "Cattle by the Pool" (Fig. 87) stand knee-deep in the tall grasses and sedges, chewing their cud with a content that defies understanding. The spirit of the Barbizon school still hovers over De Bock; we feel it in the quivering treetops and moist vegetation, but it is only a haunting reminiscence, this spirit of those 1830 men, for De Bock's own artistic instinct has a personal power that holds us. None of those artists could excel his superb grasp of the light on the pool-a light that vibrates with veritable wave-lengths. Then, too, see how the sparkle of the birch trees enhances the rich green of the others and the poetic delicacy of the single tree.
As we turn to the Ryder collection we first stop before the splendid El Greco of the Museum. Works of the Spanish masters are not so plentiful in our museums but that each ex-ample claims our special attention. "St. Francis" (Fig. 88) has all the elements of the tragic side of life, but pictured with the restraint that marks El Greco at his best. Just what event in the life of St. Francis the artist had in mind it is impossible to tell, but it was after the saint had received the stigmata, as the mark in his hand shows. El Greco has preserved the inherited refinement of the saint in the sensitive hands, with their slender fingers and shapely nails, and in the clear-cut features of the gentle face.
The life of St. Francis stands out as the most beautiful example of Christlikeness the world has ever known. From the time he gave up position, wealth and influence and said to his father: "Henceforth I recognize no father but Him who is in Heaven," until his death he never swerved from his devotion to Christ. He was the founder of the Franciscan Order, one of the three mendicant orders of friars. St. Francis' given name was Giovanni but, when a mere lad, his father had him taught French, which gave him the nickname of Francesco the Frenchman. St. Francis was born at Assisi in 1182 and died there in 1226, and two years later was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. He was one of the very few saints said to have received the miraculous stigmata. It is possible that St. Francis did have these marks on his body after fifty days' fasting and prayer, for great exaltation of spirit, with pro-longed mental contemplation of the Savior's suffering and death, might have left some mark on his physical body. At least all the artists from Giotto through the Renaissance show the stigmata in picturing the saint, though it is said that St. Francis, in meekness of spirit, tried to hide the marks that were so like those of his blessed Lord.
The collection of Albert P. Ryder's pictures in the Museum, a recent acquisition, will grow in value with the passing years. Our first impression is that an exquisite color scheme has been carried to the nth power of perfection. It seems as though all nature had been put under bond to contribute of her wealth. The very smallness of the pictures enhances their gem-like qualities. That tiny canvas picturing a woman in red walking down an avenue of yellow autumn-colored trees is a veritable carbuncle set in Etruscan gold. Each dainty creation is a revelation in the jewel-like quality of pigments and in the artist's deep sense of the value of color in interpreting his theme. It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the beauty of Mr. Ryder's pictures in a black and white reproduction, for so much of their real significance lies in the harmony of the color tone ; yet the underlying thought is still there, even in a half-tone. No one can mistake the meaning of "The Waste of Waters is Their Field" (Fig. 89). That strong vigorous scene tells the life-story of those toilers of the sea in a simple straightforward manner. To those men the scudding clouds and rolling waters present as many moods to be reckoned with as the changing temper of a mob swayed by the impulse of the moment. Strong and alert, they humor and coax the elements, but never lose control in holding the power in leash that might bring destruction.