St. Louis, City Art Museum
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE City Art Museum of St. Louis has an interesting and varied collection of paintings. There are pictures by many of the nineteenth century artists from most of the countries of Europe, and a goodly number representing American painters. Four of the six pictures selected for illustrations give the general trend of American painting and of two men who are beginning to claim attention, after years of more or less obscurity.
George Fuller is an artist whose pictures just at present are being brought before the public. He was born in Deerfield, Mass. in 1822 and the little training he ever had was gained in Albany, N. Y. and in Boston. When his "Quadroon" in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City was exhibited in the early sixties, or possibly in the fifties, the criticisms were so adverse, it is said, that for eighteen years the artist sent nothing more to the exhibitions. Much of his painting was done late in life. Fuller was unique in his work, for without the very fundamental of all artódrawing, he yet produced with color and atmosphere a sentiment in his pictures that contains the very essence of poetry.
"The Fuller Boy" (Fig. 218) has a charm that nothing can mar. He is a real child, with the quaint earnestness of one used to hearing and instinctively understanding the family problems. This boy could have felt intuitively the father's hurt over a rejected picture, but could only express his sympathy in a dumb, childlike devotion.
"The Approaching Storm" (Fig. 219), by George Inness, is one of several by this title that the artist painted (see Fig. 214). But Inness never was any more monotonous in painting a storm than a storm itself is monotonous. He was quick to catch a unique demonstration of the elements and its effect on surrounding nature. The storm in its onrush has roused to an unusual pitch the young cow in the fore-ground, as she hurries to shelter. The rap-idly moving clouds seem to change position be-fore our very eyes, so vividly does our imagination picture the storm bursting upon the land. Somehow George Inness gets into our blood whether he is portraying the minutest details, as in his earlier works, or whether he is getting the effect through the simpler methods. In "Peace and Plenty" his unconventional composition, with its broad expanse of fields and winding stream leading to the mountains in the distance and his pleasing color full of sunshine, fills us with the joy of the country; and in the "Approaching Storm" the rumble and crack of the thunder and lightning make our blood tingle just as they used to when we were children.
The power of touching the mystery of familiar things was one of Inness' strong points. There lingers in and around his landscapes that human warmth which makes the world akin. He was always a student, but he never had pupils. He used to say when asked how many pupils he had, "I have had one for a very longtime, and he is more than enough for me. The more I teach him the less he knows and the older he grows the farther he is from what he ought to be."
Horatio Walker, a Canadian by birth (b. 1855), is nevertheless an American artist. He is our Millet in painting. The workers of the soil have gained new beauties from his brush; they are not French peasants, but men and women ; the new world has opened wide the doors of opportunity and a new hope has entered into their lives. Mr-. Walker always preserves that sense of fitness in his figures which is the true test of harmony. We feel in the "Wood Sawyers (Fig. 220) the rhythm of well-balanced workers, where work is done with the least energy. The rapidly falling saw-dust shows no hitch in the moving blade. Of course it is a homely scene, but full of the feeling of home comfort. The increasing pile of wood hints at the comfort of a good kitchen fire; then, too, the men work with the steady purpose of those having a vision of home be-fore them. Mr. Walker uses the rough clothes of the sawyers and the varied angles of the blocks of wood as so many radiating surfaces for the light. The rich low tones of his can-vases are like a harmony on the bass notes of an organ.
"At Sunset" (Fig. 221), by J. Francis Murphy, is a melody on the harp ; as delicate and tender as the wind sighing in the trees, it draws us irresistibly, for we enter the very realm of the artist's own vision. Never were the lingering tints of sunset or the first gleam of the morning enveloped in a more caressing atmosphere than in Mr. Murphy's pictures. His perception of nature is like that of the lover for his lady love. He sees her as through a veil, where the light reveals only to confuse the vision. "The Sunset" is to be enjoyed as we enjoy a dream; it is reality, but the moment we try to make it real the bloom is gone.
"Another Marguerite" (Fig. 222) is a very unusual picture by Sorolla-unusual in that most of his pictures are out-of-door 'scenes where the sea plays `a prominent part. The tragedy of a life is pictured in this humble scene. The story of Marguerite as pictured in Goethe's "Faust" is the world story of woman's insanity when the feared becomes flesh and blood. She commits the crime ere the mother-instinct can assert itself ; then the real tragedy begins. The awful agony that follows the deed that took the life of her own child is of itself a punishment: worse than the ingenuity of man can devise against her. This Marguerite is a girl of the people. The scene is a third-class railroad car of Spain. There is no one to plead her cause, no one to prevent her arrest, none to interfere when the cord bound her hands together. The roughest box car is good enough for such a criminal. Two guards for one frail woman, and she scarcely recovered f ro giving her life-blood to an-other life. Who knows but that the guard with his face turned away is the real cause of the tragedy? The train rattles over the rails, going, going, but what cares she where? Was ever human woe more intense than in the drooping form and white drawn face of this Marguerite? The light that sparkles on the gay handkerchief around the bundle of clothes and the polka spots in her dress mocks at the gloom rather than relieves it. There is one little ray of pity in the thoughtful face of the guard behind her, but he, though an officer of the law, is only a creature of it. With perfect quiet and restraint the artist has represented one of the most terrific tragedies that ever comes into a woman's life. The intense feeling is there, but with no unseemly demonstration. The longer we look at that stricken woman the deeper our sympathy for her and the more our hearts yearn over the erring ones in life. Such a picture goes deeper than a sermon, for it shows life itself. If we could only draw that weak sister close-she is so real as she sits there before us on the rough bench.
This picture of "Charity" (Fig. 223), by Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), is as far removed from Sorolla's manner of painting as can be imagined, yet both artists have employed the simplest means to attain the desired end. As we look at the pale flat-toned picture a feeling of peace steals over us because of the harmony in design, color and sentiment.
It is that of perfectly tuned instruments. With Puvis a new spirit came into the art of mural decoration in France, a spirit that finally revolutionized that branch of painting in Europe and America. No one was willing to believe this innovator, however, even when he demonstrated that the keynote of mural decoration is "its clinging to the surface, and its being easily taken in with the wall in the same key." His pictures, pale in color and flat in tone, were out of place, to say the least, among the exhibitors at the Salon and the committee could see no further than the Salon walls, and refused him. Puvis worked on, following his own ideals, while others laughed and ridiculed and made scathing criticisms. Gradually, how-ever, he convinced the more enlightened that he was right, but not until he had passed his threescore and ten years did the French people publicly acknowledge the genius of one of their most gifted sons. In 1895 a great banquet was given in his honor in Paris at which sat nearly five hundred of the most eminent men in France. This belated tribute came after the whole world was acknowledging him as the greatest mural painter of his time. But the honor came to him, and Puvis de Chavannes rightly received his own. We are pleased that Boston was among the first cities to do him honor and that the decoration in the Boston Library is one of the masterpieces of this great master.