Indianapolis, John Herron Art Institute
( Originally Published 1915 )
INDIANA is particularly fortunate in having a portrait of her most distinguished literary son in her capital, and painted by America's most famous portrait painter. When John Singer Sargent (1856- .) painted the "Portrait of James Whitcomb Riley" (Fig. 193) he gave the world a masterpiece of rare value. It is easy, from Mr. Sargent's likeness of him, to grasp the genuine quality in Mr. Riley that has made his dialect writing a success.
When Mr. Riley chose Benj. F. Johnson as a sobriquet he created a real character. An aged, uneducated rustic was Johnson, who said of himself, in his own words, "from child-hood up tel old enough to vote, I allus wrote more or less poetry, as many an album in the neighborhood can testify, . . . from the hart out." The public at once recognized the ring of truth in the "Old Swimmin' Hole" and scores of other poems. Mr. Riley began to absorb the characteristics of the "hoosier"—perhaps derived' from "Who's yere?"—when a mere child. He was the constant companion of his father, an attorney-at-law, and on court days in some obscure corner of the courtroom he was unconsciously preparing for his future career. Several of his earlier years were spent wandering over the country decorating the fences and roadsides with business signs to please the people and entice their trade. At one time he even had yearnings toward portrait painting, but signs brought larger returns for his time.
With such a man as James Whitcomb Riley for a subject, Mr. Sargent must have felt the tingle of a warhorse on his mettle. And the portrait is proof that he recognized the subtle traits of the man who is known as the "Burns of America." The portrait is true to the man —humorous yet ever kindly, witty with no sting, seeing weakness but with the sympathy of a true friend, quick to scent the absurd but quicker to heal the hurt—such is a true picture of James Whitcomb Riley.
When William M. Chase combines portraiture and genre painting, as in "Dorothy" (Fig. 194), he makes a picture that is simply bewitching. "Alice" (see Fig. 174) has a charm all her own, as she skips away laughing at her own power to please us; but "Dorothy" has more of the challenge of the young miss who feels her power, but wants you to know that she feels it. Both have the unconscious grace of childhood, with the awakened conscience of young girlhood just making itself felt. Individually "Alice" and "Dorothy" are as distinct in character as the two girls must have been in real life. Mr. Chase never leaves any uncertainty as to the personality of his subjects. They demand our attention by the force of their presence. We could no more ignore "Dorothy," or succeed in forgetting her, than we could evade the influence of any strong character that has entered the room where we are.
Mr. Chase is a native of Indiana, and it is most fitting that he should not only be represented by his own work but that a portrait of him should be in the John Herron Institute. And who could have portrayed "William Merritt Chase" (Fig. 195) with more sympathy than J. Carroll Beckwith (1852- ) ? Both men are westerners—the west of thirty years ago. Mr. Beckwith is a native of Missouri. Both he and Mr. Chase went to study in Europe at an early age, Mr. Chase to Munich and Mr. Beckwith to Carolus Durand, in Paris. Mr. Beckwith has painted the portraits of many notable persons in Europe, particularly several cardinals of Italy. He has exhibited in the Paris exhibitions and our own Academies. His portraits have much of the same direct personal element that Mr. Chase gives to the likenesses of his sitters.
We are not surprised that the pupils of Mr. Chase, who is here looking us in the eyes so frankly, could see beauty in the forlorn, wind-swept, undulating country of Shinnecock. It is the recognizing of beauty in just such barren wastes that marks Mr. Chase as the true artist. The spontaneity of his pictures is one of their greatest charms. His inspiration, like the sparkle on champagne, must be caught at the moment, and his work is that of a trained master, with every faculty under perfect control. No one can paint more delicious fish than Mr. Chase, and his red peppers make one's mouth water. One wonders if the cook ever has a chance to get these articles of food into the oven, if the master spies them first.
The Herron Art Institute has a fine collection of paintings by the American landscapists of the second half of the nineteenth century, men who are still producing wonderful pictures of nature shifting her scenes from season to season. We never tire of these paintings, for we have grown up with the originals and love them as we love our own vine and fig tree. We frankly confess that it has taken our American artists to open our eyes to the beauty of them.
Who can look at Tryon's "November Morning" (Fig. 196) without feeling the thrill of the stiff breeze lifting and swaying the tall grass and crisp bushes? Was there ever such riot in shades of brown, soft luscious cream tints deepening into glistening chestnut and rich seal brown, yet with the summer's green still making itself felt? Everywhere and over all hangs a gray tone as elusive as the odor of rosemary off the coast of Spain.
Mr. Dwight W. Tryon is one of the earlier of the landscapists following George Inness. He was born in 1849 in Hartford, Conn. A pupil of Charles Daubigny, he has the same love of his master for homey scenes—yes, and homely scenes, too, only they are not homely after he has touched them. I doubt if many persons could look out on a chilly November morning, after seeing his picture of it, and grumble, "Oh, what a disagreeable morning!" as shivers creep up and down the spine. Mr. Tryon has revised Thomas Hood's description of "November." Of course Hood was correct so far as the mere facts are concerned, but his angle of vision saw only the drear, and Mr. Tryon is just as correct in picturing the cheer.
Mr. Tryon has a way of arranging his composition that is very pleasing. He uses some permanent and familiar landmark, such as a row of trees or an old fence, as the sequence of long lines, and encloses all between the distant sky-line and an intimate bit of dooryard or meadowbrook at our very feet.
Twenty years later than Mr. Tryon a number of embryo artists, destined to become masters and add a new element to American art, arose in various sections of America. Among them were Elmer W. Schofield, born in Philadelphia in 1867, and Edward W. Redfield, born in Bridgeport, Delaware, in 1868. It takes a peculiar kind of wisdom to strike into hitherto untrodden paths and wander so far afield that the old, with its fundamentals, is not lost. These two young men and a few others had that wisdom and, while many others have fallen by the way, they are binding the old and the new into an art that prophesies much for America.
The "Old Mills on the Somme" (Fig. 197), by Elmer W. Schofield, is a quiet scene, yet we feel that the whirr of the stones and the hum of the belts fill the air with the music of industry. The open door and the snug well-kept air of the buildings indicate the thrift of labor. The ancient buildings beside the picturesque, ragged old stream peer anxiously into the deeper pool and smile as they see their own f aces. The snow clinging to the stones and water-grass seems to catch up the smile and give it back to us. The shimmer of green and purple-brown that lurks in the shadows and around the bare trees has the tantalizing quality of the opal and defies too close scrutiny of its exact tint.
Of the American landscapists now nearing the half-century mark probably Mr. Redfield is the most widely known, though as one critic says, "He was no precocious prodigy, and it is doubtful if anyone realized . . that he was destined to become one of the foremost painters in America, whose work would receive general and substantial recognition before he had turned forty." He was the first American landscapist from whom the French Government bought a picture to hang in the Luxembourg Gallery, Paris.
"The Crest" (Fig. 198) is another of Mr. Redfield's winter scenes. Let us turn to his "Delaware River" (see Fig. 109) and "The Laurel Brook" (see Fig. 138) that we may understand how impossible it is to mistake one of his pictures, and yet to realize how entirely distinct and individual is his every picture. Mr. Redfield changes his point of view in dealing with the cranky, uncertain king of winter, but he does it to help us to a better appreciation of the whimsical vagaries of a monarch subject to powers beyond him. A certain desolateness hangs over the bare hillside and heavy flowing river in "The Crest," but the tiny settlement snuggled against the rough sidling road and the glistening snow caught in the hollows suggest that hope still lingers.
It would be impossible for Mr. Redfield to paint a hopeless winter, yet he never fails to make us feel the true spirit of the frost king. There is no sentimental masking of the desolation that follows in the wake of snow and ice. At one time we feel the light fluffy snow that, like a wool comforter, is soft and warm, then again the heavy wet snow that, like a cheap cotton comforter, weighs down with no semblance of warmth and comfort in it. Mr. Redfield works almost exclusively out of doors, and very rapidly, so that many canvases are the result of a season's work. To have one of his winter scenes on the wall of a living--room brings joy the season through. In winter the home is the cosier because of the presence of his literal portrayal of winter, and in summer there comes from it a breath of crisp cold air deliciously refreshing.