Muskegon, Michigan, The Gallery of Fine Arts in the Hackley Public Library
( Originally Published 1915 )
OF the smaller art museums in America perhaps none is more worthy of special mention than the Hackley Gallery at Muskegon. Its fifty-four oil paintings in the permanent collection from English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and American art are a key-stone for further additions that no future critics or unpublished information can displace. It is indeed rare good fortune for an art gallery to start with so perfect a nucleus around which to build. We feel, after visiting some of our galleries, that if over the entrance doors could be blazoned the prayer, "From our friends, 0 Lord, deliver us; we can take care of our enemies !" much of the art given or bequeathed might be diverted, and thus lift a great burden from the conscience of our directors and curators.
One of the most noticeable features of the paintings in the Hackley Gallery is the number of splendid portraits. Among these "Anne, Viscountess Irwin" (Fig. 152), by William Hogarth (1697-1764), grips us by the uncompromising expression of her honest blue eyes. Hogarth was as clever a genius as ever wielded a paint brush. Keen witted, clear-sighted, unafraid, he struck at the very heart of society life in England and the eighteenth century—the heart of it, too, that reached to the very depth of Billingsgate and linked it with the highest in the land. Unless a sitter was willing to have his innermost thoughts exposed he found it wise to avoid Hogarth. If we would know the moral condition of England at this time a collection of Hogarth's paintings will inform us.
This portrait of Anne, Viscountess Irwin surely shows a spirit kindred to the artist's. The clear searching eyes, with their hint of humor, the arched eyebrows and forehead, marked with the defining line at the temples of her highness, are very similar to the artist's as seen in the portrait of himself and his pug dog Trump in the National Gallery, London (see Fig. 127 in "What Pictures to See in Europe in One Summer"). It was Hogarth's keen insight into individual motives that gave him the power to paint portraits that live today. This portrait, so fresh in color and beautiful in technique, is typical of the en-during quality of the artist's pigments. Be-sides his portraits he painted many series of pictures illustrating the condition of society. He seldom, however, let his desire "to point a moral, or adorn a tale" interfere with his making a picture, though we confess that many of them are terrible in their realism.
Hogarth was really the first English artist of any note. A quarter of a century later came Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), who raised English portrait painting to a rare standard of excellence. In the "Portrait of Sir William Lynch" (Fig. 153) Gainsborough shows him-self in full sympathy with his sitter. A subtle undertone of personality breathes forth from the canvas and makes us feel the presence of the man. Gainsborough was a born artist, following no prescribed rules; the moods of each individual subject played upon his sensitive nature, and when artist and subject supplemented each other the portrait was one of which his great rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds, would say, "I cannot think how he produces his effects." These rivals were as unlike as two artists could well be—Sir Joshua trained in all the fundamentals of the past and most exacting about the clothes, while Gainsborough was diametrically opposed to set methods and special clothes. The two men were not friends when in the full vigor of their careers, but when Gainsborough was stricken down he sent for Sir Joshua and when his untimely end came it was Reynolds who was at his bedside and Reynolds who helped bear his pall.
Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) was a Scotch Border portrait painter, coming twenty-five years later than Reynolds and Gainsborough. The curious design on his shield of a "rae (roe) -deer drinking from a burn or rivulet running at its feet," makes it likely that his family tree began on the hill-farm of Raeburn; at least it is quite certain that the early Rae burns were roving shepherds. Sir Henry was very early left an orphan with no means of support, but it was his good fortune to be put in a hospital a little south of Edinburgh, where he was well trained in the fundamentals of an education before starting on his art career.
He soon rose to distinction in his life-like portraits of the Scotch people. This portrait of "Mrs. Bailie" (Fig. 154) fairly startles us with its warmth of life. We hesitate to stand staring at her for fear she may suddenly speak, and cover us with confusion at our lack of good manners. She is so modern in her gown, with its low corsage and high standing collar and dark sleeves. This is a portrait that will not let us go, and compels us to come again and again to feast our eyes on its beauty.
Still another portrait of unqualified worth in the Hackley Gallery is Francisco Goya's (1746-1828) "Don Juan Jose Perez Mora" (Fig. 155). Very recently a rare opportunity was given in New York City to see a loan collection of Goyas from private owners in America. Except in Spain, no European public gallery has so large a number of representative canvases of this Spanish artist as were brought together in this exhibition, and never before has it been possible for us in America to understand the marvelous genius of this strange man.
The fates gave a curious twist to Goya's personality, combining in him those contradictory traits that make and mar a human life. A wild, heedless boy without self-restraint, his first decade was spent wandering at will, fostering his inborn talent to express himself in pictures. One day a monk found him decorating a wall with a pig of such artistic merit that he persuaded the parents to have the boy placed in a studio to learn drawing. Young Goya, just in his teens, began his artistic training but his lawless nature could not be held within four walls. Then, too, art in Spain had little to offer at this time. Velasquez and Murillo were men of the past, and Spanish art in the eighteenth century was nil. Goya, clever, excitable and pleasure-loving, with wandering propensities and a tendency to surfeit himself, was often embroiled and driven hither and yon, always turning right side up, however, in every adventure and always gaining a knowledge of life, until finally he began to re-cord his impressions of the passing show.
Now let us look again into the face of Don Juan to appreciate what a psychologist Goya was. He saw people with the eyes of a constructive critic, and in the individual he summed up the dominating weakness or strength that had filtered through their ancestors. The last years of Goya's life were pathetic in the extreme. Totally deaf, de-pressed and morose, subject to fits of ungovernable passion, with every faculty for joy burned out, he, with his little grandson Mariano, went to France where in 1828 he died at Bordeaux. In 1899 his remains were taken to Spain and buried with honor in Madrid.
We are specially interested in Whistler's "Study in Rose and Brown" (Fig. 156), for we have seen the child before, in Boston, and have a picture of her father in "The Black-smith of Lyme Regis" (see Fig. 12). One of Whistler's peculiarities was his tendency to speak of his pictures as studies in some particular tints, even when they were likenesses of real people. He says, "Take the picture of my mother exhibited at the Royal Academy as an arrangement in gray and black ! Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother ! but what can and ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?" We can expect Whistler to make just such an absurd statement when his mood was that of Boldini's portrait of him (see Fig. 78). He was at variance with people just for the sake of annoying them. A "Study in Rose and Brown" would be less likely to appeal to humanity than the little Rose of Lyme Regis, the child that it loves. But Whistler never failed to emphasize the human element, and the human element, too, that be-longed to the particular person when he was making a special study. Little Rose is as individual a personality, with her searching eyes of almost uncanny intelligence, as is the artist himself. Now look at her hands and see if we can rid ourselves of her influence as a living power. Such a child lives as does Maggie Tolliver and Little Nell.
Ralph A. Blakelock is a man of many parts in his art. His innate love of color has given him an individual command of pigments most characteristic, and with no eccentric qualities to mar our pleasure in them ; then, too, he has a subtle genius for leading us by a mysterious hint of untold beauties. The wonderful light draws us in "Ecstasy" (Fig. 157), though we feel that, like Wordsworth's "light that never was on sea or land," it is a will-o'-the-wisp that is leading us and that in the depths beyond is a world where fancy alone can feel at home. Such pictures express an exaltation that few of us can attain, yet it is good for our souls to contemplate the mysteries that haunt these solitudes. I once rode alone into the forest primeval above El Capitan. The lingering memory of those quivering depths of light and shadows is quickened by this picture of "Ecstasy"; the same spirit of solitude draws and repels, while that curious feeling of wanting to know but hesitating to intrude is present.