Milwaukee, Layton Art Gallery
( Originally Published 1915 )
WHEN Mr. Frederick Layton and his wife gave the now famous Layton Gallery to the City of Milwaukee in 1888, they bestowed a gift that in intellectual value is compounding interest to each succeeding generation. The pictures alone collected there have many rare treasures among them. We can hope to examine but a small number in our brief survey.
We are drawn at once to "The Wood Gatherer" (Fig. 180), by Bastien-Lepage (1848-'884), for in it we recognize a return to nature and a return, too, in a simple natural way without any forced process of primitive methods and crash color scheme. Bastien-Lepage was great enough to defy the Academicians in Paris and paint a scene as he saw it in his own back yard or wood pile. The impressionists may claim him among their leaders, but he certainly reached the satisfactory final stage where the people could understand his work without going through the intermediate states that have brought so much annoyance to the art-loving public. This was probably due to his excessive early academic training and, we quickly add, the influence of Manet who was painting nature as it impressed him, but with-out the severe training as a foundation. That the latter interested the public later his "Boy With a Sword" (see Fig. 50) and "The Beg-gar" (see Fig. 179) are proofs sufficient.
Bastien-the artist assumed his mother's name Lepage—was rebuffed again and again in contending for the Prix de Rome. His de-feats, however, were simply a spur to further original work, until finally success came, alas ! only as he laid down his brush at thirty-seven. We can scarcely believe that the "Wood Gatherer" was painted by a pupil of Cabanel. Bastien has so frankly grasped the essentials- of the simple scene. The general effect of gray interspersed with delicate greens and lovely flower tints is a harmonious blending of nature's own. This idyl of the wood gatherer and his little granddaughter is a bit of real life perfectly charming in its simplicity. It is simply an incident in the life of these two that has occurred many times, and which never loses its joy for the little one and its thought of comfort for the old peasant.
"The Water Mill" (Fig. 181) is really one of the most attractive of Anton Mauve's (1838-1888) paintings. It is a small picture, eleven by seventeen inches, but big with the spirit that surrounds an old water mill. As we approach on foot we can hear the water pour off the wheel, then the swish of the current in the pool and close at hand the drip, drip, drip of the water falling from bucket to bucket. Very crude is this overshot wheel and evidently care-fully tended, that no water be wasted as it comes from the race above. It is not often that a Dutch painter has given us so intimate a picture of the simple industries of Holland. Over and over we see the more pretentious windmill as it dominates the low country. The water mill, found in the out-of-the-way corners as we see it here, needs a slight elevation for its simple and economical work. The lone sheep browsing at will is probably a pet lamb that is allowed its freedom; and what a place to browse ! Can you not smell the mint growing along the waste water course? And the ferns, how rank they are! though the air is raw and the trees stand stark and shivering.
Anton Mauve's home was only a short distance south of the Zuyder Zee, in the little village of Laven. His pictures are simple and direct statements of actual scenes, many of them the sand dunes near his home. Cool gray was his favorite tone and simple long lines mark his composition. These two are very soothing in such a picture as the "Water-Mill," but sometimes, as in many of his sheep pictures, this becomes too monotonous ; we wish the sheep, the stupid things, would break away and disturb the long line of silvery backs stretching across our vision.
It is rather curious that a banker, and one who acquired his own wealth, should have been a painter and one of distinction. To be a Dutchman and a painter of the sea is natural, but among Dutchmen a painter and banker like Hendrick Willer' Mesdag (1831- ) is rather unusual. Mesdag saw the sea with his face to the north, and a fine strong sea he has portrayed it. Even his picture, "The Coast of Scheveningen" (Fig. 182) shows sturdy toilers battling with timbers and muscles against the tides of the incoming North Sea. It was the sterner aspect, a resisting sea, that attracted him—not the crowd of idlers at the resort, but the fisher-folk wresting their living from the very jaws of death. Yet there is no tragedy in this contest between the waters and the workers—rather a proud matching of strength. Look out across the waters of the great North Sea, and note how the tall masts reaching even to the horizon seem to stand as guards holding the water in check. What a sense of freedom is in that wide expanse ! Is it any wonder that the Dutch Re-public was born among people who had that vision of sea and sky before them? Brave little Holland ! How proud we are to claim some of her people !
There are three unique specimens of the development of modern landscape painting in England, France and America in the Layton Gallery. For the English example we turn to John Constable and look at his painting, "An English Landscape" (Fig. 183). This is not a very definite title, yet the picture is a typical English scene. Constable could not paint other than typical scenes of his homeland. He him-self says : "I have always succeeded best with my native scenes . . . they have always charmed me, and I hope they always will." Old Crome, an artist contemporary of Constable, in a measure explained why we love Constable's paintings when he said: "Trifles in nature must be overlooked, that we may have our feelings raised by seeing the whole picture at a glance, not knowing how or why we are charmed."
Then, too, Constable, ever heeding Benjamin West's remark to him when a mere lad that "light and shadow never stand still," saw that real light played many pranks with the trees and grass. He not only saw green in vegetation, a step in advance of the Dutch landscapists, but he saw that green itself was moody and changeable under the stress of varying lights and moisture. No one knew better how to give the tender radiance of the dew or the gleam of the hoar frost. But the celebrated connoisseur Beaumont, while he ad-mired Constable's landscapes, said he thought they ought to have more of the quality of an old brown fiddle. Constable, without answering a word, went into the house and brought out an old brown fiddle and laid it gently on the green lawn beside Beaumont. This was sufficient answer.
We look again at "An English Landscape" and feel that the intimate warmth of the home is the element that draws us. The landscape might easily be called "The Home," and possibly Constable's own home. There is the windmill—his father was a miller on the Staurthere are the clouds that the son learned to love while tending the long-armed giant, and there is the straw-thatched cottage and the quiet industry, loved so well by the artist.
Quite naturally we turn to the Barbizon artists after looking at a painting by Constable. Those men of 1830 in France recognized that the English painter had demonstrated a great truth, in painting nature as he saw her. When we class Corot with the Barbizon artists, we do so remembering that he never lived in the little hamlet at the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau; but his spirit was that of those independent men. In truth, Corot, often called the Fra Angelico of landscapists, is in a class by himself. All artists loved him—the classicists because he had classic tendencies, the revolutionists because he gave the very essence of nature—all loved him; he was "Pere Corot" to everyone.
His "Landscape" (Fig. 184), whatever it is, is the adjective that defines him. Words are useless in creating the impression that one obtains from seeing one of his paintings. A Corot is a Corot. Miss Anderson very beautifully expresses it when she says, "For Corot the morning comes down from God out of heaven divinely veiled, and adorned like a bride for her husband."
When George Inness painted "Sunset in Georgia" (Fig. 185), he was sixty-five and at the zenith of his art career. With Inness began the war between the old and the new in American landscape painting, and in him the modern American landscapists found their strongest advocate. He saw in the Barbizon artists, as against the Hudson River school, a freedom from the restraint of painting petty details that touched his American sense of the bigness of the great out-of-doors, and he came home to find the subjects for his own paintings at his very door. These two traits, expanse of vision and intimate scenes, are the touchstones of his art. Even in the "Sunset in Georgia" we feel that he has chosen a favorite spot on the estate of his friend. With his poetic nature all aglow, he has given a poem on canvas that shows the glory of the fragrant wood and the shimmering water and the phantom steamer, for it seems but a phantom. The old negro servant, true to his native instinct, has stolen down to watch, feeling in his soul the charm and mystery of the coming of the outside world.
We are becoming so accustomed to thinking of Winslow Homer as the painter of the ocean that we feel a little surprised when we see his other pictures. The surprise, however, is an exceedingly pleasant one in the Layton Gallery, where the picture is "Hark, the Lark!" (frontispiece). The charm of the ocean is in it—the salt air, the stiff breeze, the sand dunes, but above all the free life of the fisher folk. Yes, I know there is the sad story of those who follow the sea, but people who stop at the song of the lark are not all sadness. What eager comely faces these young women have ! and how far removed from the peasant folk of the old world. Native-born American women are these toilers, with aspirations that lift their souls to the heights and make of drudgery something more than simply existing. Surely Wordsworth's words :
"Up with me ! up with me into the clouds ! For thy song, Lark, is strong; Up with me, up with me into the clouds ! Singing, singing, With clouds and sky above thee ringing, Lift me, guide me till I find That spot which seems so to thy mind !"
would find a response in the hearts of these three. It is meet that this American-born and American trained artist, Winslow Homer, should furnish the frontispiece to a volume discussing "What Pictures to See in America," and that this picture should represent true American-born women with souls attuned to the music of God's feathered worshipers.
Carl Marr is a native of Milwaukee, born in 1858. Like many another genius who fails of recognition at home, he went to Europe and by sheer perseverance made a name for himself. His home-coming several years ago was looked upon as a great acquisition to America, and rightly so. While mural decoration is an exceedingly strong branch of Mr. Marr's art, he has many splendid figure pictures. "The Wandering Jew" (see Fig. 317, "Pictures and Their Painters"), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, received a medal from the critics of Germany and "The Flagellants," his chef-d'oeuvre, was bought by his native city. "Silent Devotion" (Fig. 186) is one of his simpler canvases and possibly for that reason one of his most attractive ones. The young wife is the very essence of peaceful thinking untroubled by doubts. She has listened to the Word and her mind has wandered on into realms of the unreal, yet with no searchings for the unanswerable problems. The play of light on that woman, unconscious of the world, is as beautiful as anything in modern art. The mobile pensive face, the shapely arms and hands, the expression of perfect ease in the supple body are all there, yet the illusive charm is the filmy palpitating atmosphere that envelopes the whole.