Washington D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art
( Originally Published 1915 )
FROM May 10, 1869, when the late William Wilson Corcoran deeded to the public the Corcoran Gallery of Art "to be used solely for the purposes of encouraging American genius in the production and preservation of works pertaining to the Fine Arts, and kindred subjects," until now the gallery has been preeminently devoted to the American school. When, after a quarter of a century, a new site was chosen and a new building erected and opened in 1897, a new era dawned in the proper display of permanent works of our American artists. Over one-third of the artists represented in the Corcoran Gallery are American-born and of those a goodly number are now among the leading artists of the world.
As landscape art seems our special province, we naturally turn to George Inness (1825-1894) as America's great exponent in that branch. A forerunner, an innovator and a modern, he stands as a revealer. The gallery is exceedingly fortunate in owning his "Sunset in the Woods" (Fig. 106). The picture is particularly interesting because of the artist's own words in regard to it. On July 23, 1891, Mr. Inness wrote of the "Sunset in the Woods:" "The material for my picture was taken from a sketch made near Hastings, Westchester County, New York, twenty years ago. This picture was commenced seven years ago, but until last winter I had not obtained any idea commensurate with the impression received on the spot. The idea is to represent an effect of light in the woods toward sun-down, but to allow the imagination to predominate." We feel in this bit of personal revelation that we have drawn near to the original power of this artist's genius. If, in the hurry to sell today, there could be a little more of the Inness spirit of waiting until genius really burns, we might have fewer failures on the market. Why the public buys as it does is an unexplained mystery. However, if those with opportunities would live up to their responsibilities, the public would learn to buy good art, for only good art would be offered them.
Was it not worth the waiting to get that glow on the venerable old tree trunk and in the opening beyond the big bowlder ? How we can feel the gloom creeping in and the darkness shutting-down! A stillness is in the air; the hushed twitter of the birds and the nodding flowers warn us that night is near. The cry of the owl and the night insects ' grows bolder. Come! we must hurry for that brilliant glow —like the hectic flush—goes suddenly
"and leaves the world to darkness."
George Inness was a true poet of nature; he pictured common scenes of the nearby meadows and woods and streams and gave them a new meaning.
Frederick E. Church was but a year younger than George Inness, but he lived till the dawn of the twentieth century (1826-1900). He early began to specialize in particular phases of nature, going to South America and Jamaica to study the tropical scenery and to Labrador to complete his famous "Icebergs." Probably his painting of "Niagara Falls" (Fig. io7) brought him the most permanent fame. When it appeared, it was said that "indeed this work formed an era in the history of native landscape art, from the revelation it proved to Europeans." He certainly bewilders the mind with that stupendous volume of water pouring into the abyss below.
It is not surprising that the picture attracted favorable attention in Paris at the International Exhibition in 1867, where it received a medal of the second class. At that time comparatively few people in Europe had any definite idea of our country or knew anything about its natural wonders. To state that such a vast quantity of water was pouring itself year after year over a fall of one hundred and sixty-four feet was almost unthinkable by the old world travelers, familiar with the falls of Switzerland. What did it mean—that wide stretch of water reaching to the very horizon? Where were the mountains to stay its course? And where did the depths below lead to that were swallowing up the mighty waters? How calmly Church has marshaled his forces, until at the inevitable moment the great phenomenon is consummated.
After William Lamb Picknell (1852-1897), who was born in Vermont, had studied under George Inness in Rome and Gerome in Paris, he went to ancient Brittany. And there he painted many pictures of the quaint old country. "The Road to Concarneau" (Fig. 108) shows the undulating coast of France bordering the Atlantic ocean. The dense coarse vegetation and low-lying sky suggest salt marshes, and beyond the wide expanse, the sea. How the straining horses and the man's hand on his aching back reinforce the gentle grade and emphasize the long shadows of the western sun. The toilers are homeward bound; the tired horses feel the weight of the wet sea-weed, yet their forward-turned ears are signals that the end of the day is bringing the feeding stall and the seaweed bed. A quaint homely scene, yet full of charm.
Pinknell knew well how to hint at the interesting past of ancient Brittany. The ruins of the round tower, all but lost in the under-growth, the splendid connecting roadway, marked by milestones, and running through wild wastes of vegetation to small hamlets, suggest the Roman rule. Concarneau is in Finistere, the most western portion of ancient Brittany, where the point of the coast is bounded both on they west and south by the Atlantic Ocean. The peasantry in this section still speak the ancient language, closely resembling the Welsh—probably they originally came from England in the fourth or fifth centuries —and they still wear the quaint old costumes and keep up many of the peculiar customs of the past.
Could anything show wider variance than Mr. Edward W. Redfield's "Delaware River" (Fig. 109) and "The Road to Concarneau"? One is untamed nature in her winter's mood, the other nature under man's centuries-old dominance. Both are roadways, but one is ever changing and the other never changing. No phase of nature is better understood by Mr. Redfield than winter. Possibly because December was his birth month, he was given a deeper knowledge of the old winter king. Certain it is he never fails to give the thrills that the biting air brings, whether it is to shiver as the dampness clutches us or to laugh as we glide over the soft snow.
It is cold along the Delaware River when the snow is caught in patches and skims of ice hold the water here and there, so no wonder the picture makes the flesh pimple a little. Only the other day I saw a number of paintings of winter scenes—one was Mr. Redfield's —and then realized as never before that it is Mr. Redfield's sympathetic touch that warms our hearts. He is picturing something dear to him, and the personal note in his simple lines appeals to us at once. Nothing extravagant, nothing overdrawn, just candid truth, is the element that made the artificial winter scenes slip in the background. The "Delaware River" was one of the paintings purchased for the Corcoran collection from the First Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings in 1907, held in the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Mr. Childe Hassam was born in Boston in 1859. From 1889, when he was awarded the bronze medal at the Paris Exposition, until the present time his art has received nearly a score of medals and prizes as tokens of approbation from the critics of Europe and America. Probably the fact that Mr. Hassam is not only a genius but a thoroughly trained craftsman is the secret of his success. "The New York Window" (Fig. 110) is one of a number of similar paintings in which the artist is, doubtless primarily, dealing with light and its effect on the various objects, but personally we can-not look at the young woman as simply an object. She is far too individual for that. To one at all familiar with New York City houses and their high narrow-paned windows that catch the full light of the sky, this picture will touch a responsive chord. Only an artist with the sensitive appreciation of the effect of light that Mr. Hassam has could have originated these unique pictures. Who has used this theme in like manner-given a girl, a dish of fruit or spring blossoms, a round table (see Fig. 123), a city window and light and color?
One American critic says of Mr. Hassam's daring methods and originality, "I am inclined to believe that the amazing satisfaction of his art can best be explained by the accuracy of his accentuation, the perfection of his emphasis in color." That he is a master of color we frankly admit, though at times we are stupefied and turn away feeling that he is beyond us. Not so with this lovely picture. The New York window has taken on a new character since Mr. Hassam has shown it to us.
Mr. Hassam was one of the Ten American Painters who separated themselves from the National Academy in 1898 and began a rather unique existence—if we may express it so—by exhibiting their paintings at the gallery of Durand-Ruel, New York City. A few years later, through the kindness of Mr. Montross, they continued to exhibit at the Montross Gallery, New York City. Now, however, most of the men are again members of the National Academy and exhibit there annually.
The original men who formed this unique group were :
John H. Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Gardner Symons, Joseph De Camp, Thomas W. Dewing, Edmund W. Tarbell, Robert Reid, Willard L. Metcalf, Frank W. Benson, Childe Hassam.
After Mr. Twachtman died in 1902, Mr. William M. Chase was elected to take his place. The works of these men will be noted in the various galleries as we go from city to city.
The Corcoran Gallery also has some fine examples of the Barbizon school. Corot's "Wood Gatherers" (Fig.111) is of special interest because the artist signed it after he was confined to his bed, a few days before his death. It seems that Corot took, as the first motive for this picture, an old study from an-other artist of a landscape with St. Jerome at prayer. He made several sketches from it, enlarging and transforming the landscape, changing the principal figure, St. Jerome, and adding others. Then he named it the "Wood Gatherers. The several sketches show the trans-formations made from the original study to the finished landscape, measuring forty-four inches by sixty-three inches.
Corot has here lost nothing of the poetry of light and atmosphere, and the shimmery gray-green trees are just as full of invisible moisture as in his earlier days. How much more human are the wood gatherers and the little group entering the wood road than a praying saint could have been. Corot has come very close to the great heart of humanity in this picture, as he expresses the sympathy of his own loving heart. He was rightly called the "happy one" of the 1830 school, for his heart was full of sunshine and that sunshine is reflected in every stroke of his brush. Everybody loved Corot. William Hunt said of him, "Corot was strong, stanch, decided, cheerful about his own things. When I saw him last he was seventy-seven. He said, `If the Lord lets me live two years longer, I think I can paint something beautiful!"' He lived just two years. In his last moments he moved his right hand to the wall as though he were painting and said, "Look how beautiful it is! I have never seen such admirable landscapes."
Daubigny in a frank, straightforward manner shows us scenes lying right before us. If we are standing by the river looking at the low-lying fields beyond, Daubigny calls our attention to the ducks crinkling the water, the swamp grass waving in the breeze, the men loading hay in the meadow, the tall trees against the soft blue-gray sky, but all with that dreamy soothing touch that gives nature her healing qualities (see Fig. 38). Look at this landscape of a "Hamlet on the Seine" (Fig. 112) and note how many details—details in groups, not in petty pin points—and yet how comprehensive. Our eyes wander over it, yet our mind is comforted. It is a bit of nature that needs no comment. It is simply a commonplace riverside hamlet, bathed in moist atmosphere with a cloud-flecked sky hovering lovingly over it.
Daubigny was the youngest of the 1830 men. He did not live at Barbizon, yet his rendering of nature, like that of the rest of the Barbizon men, was of the essence of things. He was a naturalist pure and simple.
Constant Troyon's "Drinking Place" (Fig. 113) is rightly named. Often we think of Troyon as an animal painter, when in reality he paints landscapes with splendid animals to supplement them. What a fine vigorous cow this is swinging down for her water in the "Drinking Place" I She has appeared at this particular spot just as Troyon set up his easel, and naturally she belongs in the scene. The hazy light of the gray day falling on her white hair reflects a silvery sheen that sings in the whole picture. How beautifully the tender green of the fresh sprouts on the willow stumps harmonize with the dull blue-gray of the cloudy sky. The fresh green bordering the glistening pool is caught in the surrounding atmosphere and adds its note of gladness. Troyon was a true landscapist, and understood just how to please in making his pictures mirror actual scenes.
We soon learn to know Josef Israels' pictures. The "Interior of a Cottage" Mg. 114) has the warmth of a personal presence that marks all his works. (See Fig. 47.) We feel immediately that this mother and her sleeping baby are approachable. The homeliness of the little cottage is glorified by the mother-presence. It is late in the afternoon; the long rays of the setting sun are pouring through the tiny window illuminating the pink baby face and hand, the ;soft color of the baby quilt and the muslin garment in the industrious fingers. Unlike many of Israels' paintings, we can here trace the source of the light, but the objects illuminated are still under the control of the artist.