Buffalo, N.Y., Albright Art Gallery
( Originally Published 1915 )
THAT American artists have come to stay is a fact so patent that he who runs may read. And those directors of our art museums who are taking special pains to obtain fine examples of these men are showing a wisdom that is big with future power. Like the development of art in all countries, there are in America artists who, looming up in the initial work, have never lost their standing, because their art was founded on right principles.
The collectors of the Albright Art Gallery, with the seer's insight, have selected for their American art section splendid canvases of these leaders. That George Inness leads the van is not surprising. His "Coming Storm" has just the elements that gave him the leadership a half century ago—a scene at our very door, with homely beauty etherealized by the delicate envelope of moisture-laden air. None knew better than Inness how to help us see the exquisite beauty of color, ever varying with the conditions of the atmosphere.
Then a quarter of a century later comes Henry W. Ranger with his strong individuality. Possibly none of his pictures has more of the sturdy qualities that mark him as an artist than this one of a "Group of Sturdy Oaks" (Fig. 137). The oak, the monarch of the forest, has from time immemorial held a peculiar place in civic and religious ceremonies. The Druids venerated it; ancient European peoples held that within its bark lived gnomes and fairies ; in Greek myth it is dedicated to the god of thunder; to wear a chaplet of oak leaves was a special civic honor among the Romans ; and England's oaks of honor commemorate many events of historic importance. These oaks of Mr. Ranger's invite us to enjoy their cool shade, and as we do so let us recall one of the curious legends that lingers around these noble trees.
The monks of Dunwald. near the Rhine were rich and avaricious. Near them a young nobleman owned wide ancestral acres which they determined to acquire by fair means or foul. The young nobleman, knowing that his inherited right was centuries old, was determined to hold his property. He tried the judges but they were too afraid of the church to give a just decision. At last he promised to relinquish his estate if the monks, would grant him one more season of planting and harvesting his crops. This the monks hastened to grant and gave the young nobleman a legally written contract signed and sealed by them. They now watched with great interest, and considerable glee, to know what kind of crop was to be harvested. The seeds were sown and the plants appeared and, to their chagrin, they were not wheat or oats but young oaks. They were fairly outwitted, for before the trees were grown to the top of their cloisters the monks were all dead and the cloister itself crumbled, while the sturdy oaks still stood.
We feel as we enjoy Mr. Ranger's oak trees that he has pictured Emerson's trees spreading themselves ..."in the air As if they loved the element and hastened To dissipate their being in it."
A Ranger painting showing another side of the artist's genius is the "Long Pond" (see Fig. 128).
And now after another quarter of a century we have Edward W. Redfield, a modern, an independent, yet one who knows that liberty is not license. When he chooses winter as his theme, as in the "Laurel Brook" (Fig. 138), and pictures it in such frank simple language, we love him. The optimistic spirit of that scene would dissipate the worst case of the blues. The brook pays no heed to old winter except to laugh as it works its way in and out over the obstructions thrown in its way. The laurel shakes her dark shiny leaves and laughs as the white burden slips to the ground. Even the stark trees are snug, with their feet buried in the soft snow. The short strokes, used with the restraint of one who is not carried away by a fad, have given just the right amount of vitality to that dark, merry brook.
Mr. Redfield is decidedly individual, yet his individuality is not of the eccentric order. We realize that these men with independence in methods of painting—which may or may not please us—are yet too close for the public to gain a proper sense of proportion of their work. That any art, be it literature, music, sculpture, or painting, is kept up to the proper standard of excellence by a certain infusion of new ideals, is self-evident, but just how far. those new ideals are to be permanent acquisitions is a question settled by time. Millet used to say, "Art is a language and—all language is intended for the expression of ideas." And again he said, "The artist's first task is to find an arrangement that will give full and striking expression to his ideas, and to these tenets he added the scathing criticism : "To have painted things that mean nothing is to have borne no fruit." The parable of the fig tree might be read with profit by those whose ideals seem to be the new rather than the fruitful.
If Mr. Childe Hassam meant to convince the world that shades in color exist which only the artist, with his trained eye, can reveal, he has proved his point, just as he has convinced the world in every new theory he has advanced. We have followed him with delight as he pictured "The New York Window (see Fig. 110) and "Spring Morning" (see Fig. 120), and now in "The Church at Old Lyme" (Fig. 139) he gives us another phase of his art. Interesting, of course it is! That church is so typically New England; its tall spire, Ionic columns and plain whiteness are much like many a historic American church that to-day is being repaired and reclaimed as belonging to Colonial days. How we are fostering the old to gain a past for ourselves! But this church at Old Lyme may or may not be ancient. The trees that shelter it so lovingly are mere striplings, but no carved choir screen was ever more lacy or delicate in pattern than they. The light sifting through the interlacing branches and fluttering leaves has gathered into itself all the tints of the autumn and has left its delicious color on every object. Can you not hear the chimes ring out on the clear air or the clock striking its note of warning that time is fleeting¬? Look! the people are gathering—the dry leaves crackle under their feet—the young people glance shyly at each other as the parents cordially grasp each others' hands---strains from the organ summon all to enter—a hush, then the congregation breaks forth,
"Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in mutual love."
Silence, the minister prays ! Yes, the spirit of worship is in this church at Old Lyme (see Ten American Painters, page 186).
Possibly we might be better pleased if Thomas W. Dewing would always represent a robust type of American womanhood in his paintings. "The Lady with the Macaw" (Fig. 140) is a delicate, lovely woman and, probably has the nervous energy that would out-strip many of her plumper sisters, yet a whole-some, pink-fleshed woman is not only a pleasing picture but holds possibilities of great reserve force. We love the soft hazy atmosphere Mr. Dewing knows so well how to use in developing his delicious tones. His color is like that of ripe fruit, mellow and illusive. How the rich, warm blood of the American girl of today glows under his atmosphere and color ; and how she gains in dignity and poise in his compositions that are so full of strength and repose ! We are reminded in many of his paintings of what Mr. Kenyon Cox says : "Horizontal lines will suggest repose, vertical lines will suggest rigidity and stability, curved lines will convey the idea of motion." Our artists need to give our American women just these qualities if they are to keep abreast of the wholesome, well-trained, up-to-date woman and represent her as she is in her true womanhood.