Minneapolis, Institute of Art
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE Minneapolis Institute has perhaps one of the newest galleries in our country and one laid on an extensive scale. The building, which had its inaugural exhibition in January and February, 1915, is but the first unit or about one-seventh of the entire plan. Already the permanent collection of paintings contains some rare examples of old masters and a generous number representing American art.
Quite the most attractive picture in the gallery is Sir Peter Lely's portrait of the "Second Earl of Clarendon" (Fig. 187). Just one glance at the beautiful child disarms criticism against the above statement. When we recall the part the Earl of Clarendon played in the time of the Charleses of England, this boy has a keener interest for us. His sweet innocent face gives no hint of the corruption and rascality that was to mar his life. Sir Peter has caught the air of the child of court surroundings and with rare skill has woven it into an exquisite genre picture. The warm intimate companionship between the great dog and the little earl is just as real as in Ter Borch's "Boy and Dog" (see "Famous Pictures of Real Boys and Girls," Fig. 28), only that this dog shows the protective instinct of an animal trained to watch over a precious charge. The tones of the picture are rich and harmonious. The boy's yellow hair and bronze-colored slip are thrown into relief by the warm brown of the background in a most pleasing manner.
Sir Peter Lely (1617-1680), born in Germany, was of Dutch ancestry. He was trained in the Netherlands and worked in Haarlem until 1641, when he went to England with the Prince of Orange, William II, who was betrothed that year to the Princess Mary, daughter of Charles I. Lely soon became popular by his portraits of the beauties of the gay court—pictures of not very great merit, we are bound to admit. Lely's family name was Van der Faes until his father assumed the name Lely, because he was born in a house bearing the sign of a lily.
Another picture that attracts us is "A Portrait of a Lady" (Fig. 188), by Michiel Mierevelt (1567-1641), a Dutch artist fifty years older than Sir Peter Lely. This is a typical portrait of Mierevelt's in the portrayal of lace and jewels and elegant stuffs. He was in his element when the aristocracy came to him for their likenesses. At first he painted altar-pieces for the Church of Delft, but when his portraits attracted the people he was quite willing to please them, and turned his entire attention to that branch of his art. He is one of the earliest portrait painters of the Dutch people, and from the number he painted must have equaled Franz Hals, his younger contemporary, in rapidity of work.
The Dutch people were especially pleased to have themselves put on record. They were interested in their own affairs, in their business guilds and their homes. The pictures that pleased their vanity—for they were vain, and rightly so, of their success in throwing off the Spanish rule and establishing their own identity—were those representing them as individuals and as prosperous. Portrait painting brought financial success, consequently few artists could withstand the lure of lucre. Forty years later Rembrandt refused to cater to the public vanity, and fought poverty and neglect. To-day Rembrandt stands as a great master, Mierevelt as a recorder of the wealth of the prosperous. There is no doubt but that the lady in the portrait had plenty of worldly goods and no lack of pride in her Dutch ancestry. Her name is unknown, as are many of the people Mierevelt painted.
A very interesting painting of ancient Italian art in the Institute is a "Madonna and Child with Two Angels" (Fig. 189), by the Master of the San Miniato Altar-piece. Many very admirable old paintings in Europe have been done by artists whose names are still unknown. Doubtless documents will be found later to establish their identity, but until then their paintings are designated by some special work, as in the case of the Master of the San Miniato Altar-piece, or as associated with some great artist whose name and works are well known.
This "Madonna and Child with Two Angels" was probably painted about 1418. The painter shows the influence of the earlier men, as Fra Angelico, Masaccio and Fra Filippo Lippi—the baby's short neck reminds us strongly of Fra Filippo's children—yet there are too many dissimilar points in the work to call the artist an imitator. The painting was formerly owned in England and for some time was in the Grosvenor Gallery. Its splendid state of preservation is doubtless due to the thick covering of varnish that the English use on old paintings, and when removed the surface was practically undamaged. The sweet sincerity of the Madonna and the child-like action of the Infant, together with the adoring angels, give a devotional spirit to the picture that marks the artist as true religious painter. The flesh tints are exquisite, and the pure color of the Madonna's robe and the filmy veil please us.
There is a fine showing of the paintings of American artists in the Emanuel Walter Collection in the Institute of Art. Of the Ten American Painters (see page 186) four, Twachtman, Tarbell, Reid, and Hassam, have representative examples in the permanent gallery. The works of other men equally well known hold our interest. We stop to look at John W. Alexander's "Ray of Sunshine" because it compels us. The soft radiance illuminating the picture is a touch of nature that sings on in our hearts forever. A ray of sun-shine is a bit of energy that never ceases; it may change as it has under Mr. Alexander's hand, but its power is still there.
Gari Melchers' pictures have a strength and virility all their own. The bride in "Marriage" (Fig. 190) is not one whit less womanly be-cause she stands unflinchingly by the side of the man; the ceremony is to her a bond that holds for life; she sees far beyond the moment and feels that her own soul is responsible for the step she is taking. Not so the man. To him this is the supreme moment; he now possesses what he has sought, and cares very little for what the future has in store. Mr. Melchers is very dependent upon the individuality of his subjects, as are all true artists, and he never fails to make us feel that character is the basis of his portraits. One of his most remarkable portraits is that of Dr. William Rainey Harper, late President of the University of Chicago.
The two paintings of "The River in Winter" in the Institute by two of our Independents are splendid examples of the individual force that governs our American landscapists. Each man is true to himself and each sees the river in his own way. The "River in Winter" (Fig. 191), by Gardner Symons, is flowing steadily through the valley, where for ages it has been eating out the crumbling banks, making a lake of itself, then drawing in its forces because the rocks and trees compel it, only again, how-ever, to tear out new material with its collected force. Mr. Symons has vividly portrayed the history of that sullen water in its devastating moods. The heavy cold of the dark ice-laden river penetrates to the very marrow—the air is cold; the snow is cold; the water is cold; not even the sun cares to linger, for the win-ter king is in no mood to give out joy, though he makes us wish for the open fire in the home near the river.
But Mr. Symons can depict a winter scene full of joy as we may see in the "Sunlight in the Woods" (see Fig. 215). These two scenes show how sympathetically he approaches his subjects and how susceptible he is to the ever changing aspect of nature. We might name our landscapists "Interpreters of Nature," for such is the burden of their theme, only unfortunately not always are their renderings understood by us, the public; when not comprehended, both they and their pictures fall by the way.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was a strange man. He despised the conventional and artificial and made himself heartily hated by his insistence in exploiting the ugly and common-place. He took pride in saying, "I am not only a socialist, but also a democrat and a republican . . . and I am a sheer realist." A sheer realist ! that explains his art. He was not an interpreter, but an exact recorder of nature, and nature usually in her most cruel, most uncompromising attitude. This state of mind did not prevent Courbet from painting superbly, for he was a thoroughly trained craftsman, nor did it keep him from grasping great truths and ignoring petty details.
"The Deer in the Forest" (Fig. 192) is an unusual Courbet, as it has none of the brutal qualities that so provoked the antagonism of the French people. He seemed to gloat in picturing scenes that would shock the sensibilities of society-bound Paris. But in this picture the artist is showing just what he saw, with no comments as to the sentiment of the scene and no disturbing details. The forest is there and the lure of its depths is in the underbrush and crowded trees. The light playing over the glossy fur of the mother and her fawn and creeping up the tree trunk is superb, and yet no longings stir within us. Art without sentiment is no more uplifting than social reform work without the touch of human love and sympathy.