California - San Francisco Institute of Art - Emanuel Walter Collection
( Originally Published 1915 )
As we study the Emanuel Walter Collection we are impressed with the comprehensive selection of paintings representing the Barbizon artists; and when we remember that the men identified in the early thirties with this little town, at the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, formed the most important group of art creators since the great Renaissance, we recognize the far-reaching wisdom of the collectors. A well-laid foundation in the establishment of an art gallery speaks volumes for high ideals in training the rising generation. The lives of the Barbizon men stand for sobriety, restraint and sympathetic friendship, and their works are the expression of them-selves.
The pictures collected in this gallery, representing the 1830 men, are not the best examples of their work, but fortunately the drawings of several of the masters supplement the lack of adequate paintings and also help us to better understand their methods of work.
We never tire of beginning our picture tour with the works of those splendid men, and Corot is the one we turn to first. Though he did not live in the little village, his spirit permeates the Barbizon days and his happiness was a power in the lives of all. We cannot mistake "A Landscape (Fig. 229) of his, for he never fails to leave apart of himself on the canvas. We can no more define that lingering essence of Corot than we can define the per-fume of the violet or the fleeting resemblance that reminds us of one long since gone. With mediocre artists, assumed mannerisms compel our recognition; this is not true of Corot. Modest and retiring, seeking rather to efface himself, he takes the firmer hold of our hearts. What is it that holds us in the simple "Landscape"? Is it the little pond full of obstructions¬ struggling to reflect the feathery trees? Is it the low-lying hamlet in the distance? Perhaps it is the joy of the trees flaunting their swaying tops in the moisture-laden air.
joy and happiness are not the attributes of Millet. He says of joy in nature: "For my part I have never seen it; as its nearest approach I have seen some hours of calm and peacefulness." You will remember that Corot and Millet never quite understood each other. Corot's happy, joyous landscapes did not sink deep enough into the subsoil for Millet, and the latter's rugged grasp of nature's relentless demands was too severe for "le bon Papa, Corot." After all, these two men simply supplemented each other, for each saw only in part.
This simple drawing of "The Return of the Flock" (Fig. 230), with its wide horizon beyond¬ the gate, breathes forth the calm of daily routine; morning and evening this scene repeats itself, always the same yet never monotonous, for true heart sympathy is poured out on these children of nature—"and the sheep hear his voice : and he calleth his sheep by name . . for they know his voice." This little sketch, full of the Gospel story, brings us close to the religious teachings of Millet's youth. After years out in the world he revisited his old home, but alas, the devoted grandmother and the waiting mother were gone; but he found his old teacher, the Abbé Jean Lebriseux. They embraced each - other, as the tears ran . down their cheeks, and the Abbé asked, "And the Bible, Francois, have you forgotten it, and the psalms, do you re-read them?" "They are my breviaries," Millet answered. "It is from them I draw forth all that I do."
The struggle for mere existence that was his almost to the end never dimmed the faith of his boyhood, but our hearts are wrung with the pathos of it all. About the time he finished "The Angelus," which finally brought one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, he wrote to his friend Sensier, "We have only wood for two or three days. . . . I am suffering and sad." And today a scrap of paper bearing a sketch by Millet is a rare treasure. Are we repeating the same tragedy with our own artists? We may well ask the question.
We naturally think of Charles Jacque as a painter of sheep, for most of his paintings are of these animals. It is particularly gratifying to find this signed drawing of a scene entirely distinct from his usual manner. There is not the warmth of his personality in this that we feel in "The Sheepfold" (see Fig. 41, though he preserves the true sentiment of the Barbizon artists. The horses at "The Watering Place" (Fig. 231 and those hurrying thither have the typical eagerness of the whole equine family, when consumed with thirst. None of these men ever confined his pictures within the. limits of a particular scene, but embodied in them the essence that makes all scenes a living reality.
Was there ever a more intimate picture of the daily doings in humble homes than in this "Village Scene" (Fig. 232), by Charles Daubigny? The clothes on the line tell the story of the early morning hours and the woman on the doorstep, apparently waiting for her friendly neighbor or the homecoming of the workers, expresses the community spirit that dwells in the hamlets of the old world. All day men and women labor in the fields, but at night they return to the cluster of little homes, and there snuggled close together, the joys and sorrows of each belong to the whole. Daubigny, as none other of the Barbizon men, came very close to the heart throbs of homes. among the lowly. Even in such landscapes as his "Morning on the Seine" (see Fig. 38) an atmosphere of close fellowship hangs over them, for in Daubigny's art of the countryside the whole world's akin—that kinship which means success through cooperation. An inscription by Karl Daubigny, son of the artist, on the back of this painting, affirms that the picture was painted by his father.
When Theodore Rousseau made his "Landscape" (Fig. 233) sketch—for it is nothing more than a thought expression—he gave us a glimpse into the tangled growth of underbrush and gnarled trees that was drawing him into the forest. While in one of his morbidly critical moods, nothing he did suited and many canvases were destroyed. On one occasion Jules Dupre was in time to save a canvas, "Border of the Woods," and persuaded Rousseau to turn it to the wall a month ; then when the month had passed the artist examined the can-vas in Dupré's presence, and finally said, "Well, I am going to sign it; it is finished." As an innovator, Rousseau provoked a storm of criticism and was refused entrance to the Salon. Much of his work was experimental, in his searchings for truth, which changed its character at various periods of his life. The broad sweeping brush of his early work pleased the progressives,` but angered the narrow-minded this was followed by a more restrained mood, when his pictures found favor with the public, but at the end of his career he went back to his first love. One cannot be long with a collection of his paintings without feeling the influence of the man—big, strong and loving, yet susceptible to moods of deepest gloom, when only his beloved trees of the forest could bring him comfort.
It is no more possible to think of Constant Troyon's animal pictures without a landscape than it is to think of his landscapes without animals. The two go together as naturally in his conception of 'nature as sunshine and shadow. In this picture of "Cattle" (Fig. 234) it is hard to tell which attracts us more, the palpitating life of the group in the foreground or the glory of the sky. The real genius of the Barbizon artists lay in their ability to make us feel the scene as they felt it. It was not a photo-graphic reproduction of some special spot, but they worked into their pictures the atmosphere, the undefined vital part that lingers in the mind long after the material vision is erased. This is particularly true with the landscapes of Troyon, where his living, breathing cattle come in as a natural part of the changing scene.
This is a fine "Cow" (Fig. 235) of Julien Dupre's. She has all the qualities that stand for a family cow—quiet, gentle and dignified. She would be quite willing that the children should learn to milk her, but no foolishness would be allowed. Her bag full of milk is the family supply, and any undue prolonging of the milking process might interfere with her ability to give full measure. Dupré knew this "Cow" and has portrayed her good points with the eye of a connoisseur. His knowledge of her kind is not academic, but a real sympathetic understanding of cows in general. Julien Dupré 0851- ) is much younger than the Barbizon men, but in his animal and genre subjects, he is following with skill the trend of their teachings.
The paintings of William Keith are much better understood after seeing a number together in the San Francisco Institute of Art. Being a man of moods, his pictures vary greatly in their appeal to us. We may not be able to appreciate the full significance of the "Summit of the Sierras" (Fig. 2236), yet we are lifted into a realm of everlasting snow in spite of ourselves. Were it not for the warm, comforting greens and venerable storm-broken trees, companionable in their very ruggedness, the vision of the mountain tops would be almost too much for our poor earthbound minds. It is little wonder that he whose pictures were largely subjective should have felt the lure of California. He was steeped in the beauties of that wonderful country, and there found scenes that fitted his every mood. With a-mind and heart full of mountains and valleys, trees ever green, and a sky whose glories are unthinkable to the uninitiated, it is not surprising that he could say, "I feel some emotion," and immediately paint a picture to express it. Many times the mountains called him, sometimes in a mood of exaltation and again of quiet and meditation. The "Mountain Top" (Fig. 237) is a fitting ending to our picture tour. We now understand as never before that America stands today as the great treasure house of the art of the world, and her people through these art treasures must stand for that broad intellectual and spiritual strength that will bring universal peace.