Amazing articles on just about every subject...



Some French Etchers And Sonneteers

( Originally Published 1914 )

WRITING in 1862 of that revival of etching which his own appreciation of Meryon and other contemporary etchers did so much to promote, Charles Baudelaire expressed his belief that this art would never become really popular, although he admitted that he might be a bad prophet and hoped that he would prove so. Time, however, has fully justified his vaticination, and today it is more clearly understood than ever before, that the personal, and therefore aristocratic, element, which the French poet and connoisseur correctly felt to be of the very essence of etching, must of necessity limit its appeal and forever keep it the favored medium of the few rather than of the many. Yet, at the precise moment, any one less perspicacious than he might well have been pardoned for a far more optimistic outlook. Never, in all its history had etching appeared more likely to achieve popularity than when Baudelaire was writing his little articles, Peintres et Aqua fortistes, and L'Eau-forte est a la mode. As the latter title indicates, the art of the needle had already become the vogue among the more cultured classes of Parisian society, and this tended to increase rather than to diminish during the remaining years of the- decade. The ranks of the etchers were rapidly swelled with new recruits as eminent painters and humble illustrators alike experimented with the needle, while teachers like Lalanne and Gaucherel turned out clever students from their well-attended classes. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

But the public demand for prints kept pace with the supply, and in order to meet it more directly, Cadart, who had founded the French Etching Club on the model of the Society of English Etchers, started a periodical of his own, to which the majority of the leading etchers of the time contributed. Even his catalogues were care-fully arranged little works of art, embellished with miniature masterpieces by Veyrassat and other popular favorites. Nor was this all. Etching very largely took the place of lithography for the production of views of contemporary historical events. So that, just as Raffet drew upon the stone the incidents of his martial epic, of which the glory of the French arms was the theme, Lalanne bit upon the copperplate scenes connected with their tragic humiliation and defeat in the Siege of Paris. It even competed with wood-engraving as an illustrative medium for books and magazines; and for many years — or until the photogravure process came to take its place for intaglio impressions — no pretentious de luxe volume was complete without a series of eauxfortes by some eminent etcher or group of etchers.

Of such works the most interesting to students of the modern revival of etching, especially if they are also somewhat familiar with the literary history of the period in France, is perhaps Sonnets et Eaux-fortes. Baudelaire had already pointed out the special appeal of the medium to the man of letters; and doubtless this sumptuous volume, which was published in Paris in 1869, and which aimed to bring together as author and illustrator all the principal poets and etchers of the period — not French alone, but Dutch and English as well—was more or less directly inspired by his dictum. Forty-two poets and etchers coöperated in this joint enterprise which, it is significant to note, was engineered, not by Cadart or any other publisher identified with the history of etching under the Second Empire, but with one who hitherto had limited himself exclusively to literary enterprises, and was intimately associated with the rise of the "Parnassian" school of French poetry. The house of Lemerre is to-day one of the most important in Paris. But its beginnings, which reach back only four or five years before the publication of Sonnets et Eaux fortes, were modest — even humble — enough. M. Edmond Lepelletier has given an interesting account of these in his Paul Verlaine, Sa Vie, Son (Euvre, as well as of the group of poets of whom, as M. Remy de Gourmont points out in a recent appreciation of their belated survivor, Leon Dierx, it is difficult to say whether they most owe their success to Lemerre, or he owes his to them.

The leaders of the Parnassian movement had at first assumed the style of Les Impassibles; and, as this name indicates, they cultivated an attitude of stoic self-restraint with which was blended an element of dandyism and of disdainful indifference towards the common concerns of mankind. They repudiated the lachrymose sentimentality of Lamartine, the "unlyrical brilliance" of Alfred de Musset, and — although they continued to admire the poet himself — the political preoccupations and humanitarian enthusiasms of Victor Hugo. Their new note which, in brief, represented simply a reaction against the excesses of romanticism, was — in theory, at least — compounded of a frigid impersonality, an ideal adoration of beauty as it appealed primarily to the painter and to the sculptor, and an entire devotion to the practice of an impeccable, painstaking, and rather inhuman, art. Thus they found their naturally appointed masters in Théophile Gautier, with his doctrine of "l'art pour l'art," Alfred de Vigny, with the lordly isolation of his "ivory tower"; Théodore de Banville, with his virtuosity and scrupulous exactitude in the use of the metrical instrument he did so much to develop and refine; and Charles Baudelaire, with his strange intensity, and yet almost reticent sobriety and restraint of expression, making him one of the most enigmatic of poets and artists. Closest to them all, however, on the personal, as on the artistic, side — their real elder brother in the spirit — stood the creole poet, Leconte de Lisle, who seemed to soar above the world on the wings of the eagle which he himself has described, and to embrace the entire vision of earth and sky in his epic gaze.

Like all Parisian movements, this one was organized in a café, but it soon found a salon in the home of one of its leaders, Louis-Xavier Ricard, at No. 10, Boulevard des Batignolles, where Madame Ricard, mother of the poet and journalist, entertained her son's associates, and let them talk as long and as loudly as they liked.

"This improvised salon," writes M. Lepelletier, "was a simple and suburban affair," but "it exercised a decisive influence upon the movement of ideas, and more especially upon the formation of a new school of poetry among the literary youth of 1866-70. It was here that Parnassianism had its cradle," and it was here that many poets, destined to become famous, made their début. For example, it "witnessed the first introduction of a rough-headed poet, whose appearance had the effect of a dawn, viz., the brilliant and sparkling Catulle Mendes: refinement in ringlets. He was credited in those days with the vices of which he was probably ignorant, and the talent of which he already showed signs was not properly appreciated. Mendes, in his turn, introduced a young man, pale and thin, with brilliant, deep-set eyes, and inscrutable expression, whom he presented to us as a clerk in the War Office, desirous of reciting some verses . . . His name was Francois Coppée."

"At his side might be seen a youth of serene aspect and tranquil mien, with a small nose, somewhat sententious speech, of circumspect regard, and prudent hand-shake, who delivered himself of a sonnet, which had something to do with a turbot, placed by a decree of the senate before Caesar with sauce piquante." This was Anatole France, whose mind seems to have been obsessed by the thought of Caesar at this time, since, as we shall see, the sonnet which he contributed to Sonnets et Eaux-fortes dealt with another phase of the same subject. "Sully-Prudhomme, the oldest of us all, graceful and gentle, . . . also recited, in a slow, monotonous sing-song, the admirable philosophical sonnets which later on were collected and published under the title, Les Epreuves. One by one they leant against the mantelpiece to enunciate their verses, retiring after-wards to a corner in silence."

There were others as well, among them the mad genius, Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, and the West Indian, Jose-Maria de Heredia, "sonorous, exuberant, amiable, well-dressed, displaying a gold chain on his evening waistcoat, with his handsome brown beard," in short, a typical creole gentleman of the planter clams — who "would declaim sounding verses and reproduce the cries with which Artemis filled Ortygia as she chased the wild leopards. Les Trophees, with its note of triumph, published twenty-five yearn later, dates from. this period."

But although these young poets enjoyed their private recitals before a sympathetic audience, they were ambitious to reach a larger public, and what they wanted more than anything else was, accordingly, a publisher.

"Our comrade, Ernest Boutier (a violinist); knew a bookseller in the Passage Choiseul, whose customers mostly purchased books of prayer and first communion, which he displayed at No. 45, the corner shop, where the Passage opened out into the Place Ventadour, in which the Italian theatre then stood. This bookseller was young, intelligent, enterprising, ambitious, and dreamed of something better than being the mere successor of a certain Percepied. He therefore lent an ear to the tentative suggestions of Ernest Boutier, backed up by Verlaine, Ricard, and myself; and finally consented to publish certain volumes of poetry, which it was under-stood were to be printed at the expense of the authors, and to act as agent for a literary journal we were contemplating."

The first volume issued was Ciel, Rue, et Foyer, by Ricard, and this was followed by two volumes, Le Réliquaire and Poemes Saturniens by Francois Coppée and Paul Verlaine respectively — "a triple commencement, and also the first essay of the excellent Alphonse Lemerre, who was before long to conquer fame and fortune by publishing poetry, an undertaking at all times hazardous, and in those days regarded as absolutely mad."

Then in the same year was launched the now celebrated collection of contemporary verse, Parnasse Contemporain — so called at the suggestion of a scholar who was engaged in editing Ronsard and the other poets of La Pleiade for Lemerre — which gave its name to an entire period of French poetry. Edited by Ricard, it appeared monthly in parts of sixteen pages each, from March 3 to July 14, 1866. The first part contained poems by Gautier, Banville, and Heredia. The second was entirely devoted to Leconte de Lisle. The third brought together Louis Ménard, Francois Coppée, and Auguste Vacquerie. Part V presented some new Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire, and so on through a long list which includes Leon Dierx, Sully-Prudhomme, Paul Verlaine, Stephane MalIarmé, and others too numerous to mention.

Poets old and young, and of all shades of poetic temperament, were assembled in this eclectic publication which attracted such general attention that, three years later, Lemerre, who by that time had achieved important success, issued a second series with the editorial assistance of Leconte de Lisle. "Some of the poets who, for various reasons, and notably Sainte-Beuve and Auguste Barbier . . . were not included among the authors in the first volume, were invited to take part in the second," and the gates of Parnassus swung wide to include a host of newcomers.

This second volume appeared in 1869, and the same year Lemerre issued Sonnets et Eaux-fortes. It might well have been entitled Parnasse Contemporain Illustre; for nearly all the poets represented in it had already appeared in one or the other, or both, of the preceding volumes, and it was no less representative of the new movement. The Parnassian poets, having proclaimed an impersonal and objective attitude, and adopted a descriptive method based mainly on visual impressions, recognized a special affinity between their art and that of design. What, therefore, could be more appropriate and suggestive from an aesthetic standpoint, than an active alliance between the two, in which each should supplement the other, the sharpness of the etched line deepening the impressions of form and color conveyed more faintly by the words, and these, in turn, amplifying the ideas and sentiments that the artists were able to indicate only indirectly and symbolically in the pictures? We have already mentioned Baudelaire's approximation of etching to the art of literary expression. There was also another way in which his influence was felt. A collector himself, this friend of Meryon set the fashion for the man of letters to be an amateur des estampes, and the patron of etchers, and there was more than one example of friendly relations between the practitioners in the two arts, as in the case of Bracquemond and the Goncourts. Several poets had even experimented with the needle themselves. Chief among these was Victor Hugo, who produced a number of plates of no little interest and distinction; while, among the minor poets, Claudius Popelin was both a painter and an etcher.

Popelin enjoys the unique distinction of appearing in his dual capacity in Sonnets et Eaux-fortes. It is, however, a distinction to which he is scarcely entitled by any skill on his part. A competent, but not in any way remarkable, poet, he shows himself a very feeble draughtsman in the inferior figure study for Heredia's fine sonnet, Les Conquérants, while he, in turn, is illustrated, in his Dernier Amour de Charlemagne, with equal mediocrity, by an obscure painter and etcher named Ehrmann. Victor Hugo, on the other hand, appears only as an etcher. He had previously pleaded an arrangement with his publisher as an excuse for not contributing to either of the volumes of the Parnasse, and no doubt the same plea explains his non-appearance here as a poet. But no such obstacle existed to his sending in a dessin for the sonnet, L'Eclair, of his young friend and admirer, Paul Meurice, who later became his literary executor, and it must unquestionably have flattered the colossal vanity of the poet to be thus publicly accorded a place among the recognized masters of the needle. His plate is in his usual romantic and highly imaginative manner, and has his signature scrawled prominently in bold letters across the bottom.

The names one misses most in looking down the list of poets and artists represented in Sonnets et Eauxfortes, are those of Charles Meryon and Charles Baudelaire. Both had died, insane, before the book was even projected, so that they missed this opportunity for a collaboration which, it will be recalled, was at one time seriously contemplated in connection with the proposed publication of Meryon's Eaux-fortes sur Paris. Meryon's place is scarcely filled by his imitator, Louis Armand Queyroy, who published views of Vendome and of the streets and houses of old Blois in a physical dress that at once suggests Meryon, and to whom Victor Hugo had written (as he had previously written to Meryon and as he habitually wrote to all artists who sent him their work, with the same facile flattery that deprived his recognition of all critical value): "C'est la fidelité photographique avec la liberte du grand art." There is more of photography than of great art in Queyroy's work, but it is not without a merit, little trace of which, however, appears in his illustration for Le Sphinx, by Henri Cazalis.

Meryon and Baudelaire are absent, but there is plentiful, if not always adequate, representation of other major poets and etchers of the period, though, unfortunately, their names rarely occur in conjunction. Thus, among the poets of the first romantic generation, there is Théophile Gautier, whose Promenade hors des murs, showing Dr. Faustus and his famulus Wagner sitting moodily apart from their fellow-citizens on a festal occasion, is illustrated by the Belgian, Baron Leys, Leys produced many similar scenes of Flemish mediaeval life, which were popular in Paris for a time, probably for the same reason that Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris was hailed as a masterpiece of fiction. But Beraldi's judgment that, aside from his selection of subjects, where the French artist is admitted to have the advantage (though on precisely what grounds, other than sentimental, is not clearly stated), Leys is the equal of Millet, is one of the curiosities of criticism. On the other hand, Sainte-Beuve's sonnet on Le Pont des Arts, was assigned to Maxime Lalanne, a not unworthy allotment, although that excellent etcher's work in this instance is rather hard and mechanical. The third of these older poets, Auguste Barbier, famous for his political invectives, had the misfortune to fall to the lot of un nomme Giacomotti, who contributed a caricature of Botticelli's Nascita di Venere to accompany a sonnet celebrating.

Prominent among the poets of the second romantic generation is Leconte de Lisle who drew one of the most workmanlike of the younger etchers, Léopold Flameng, but his subject, Combat Homérique, presented an almost impossible problem for an etcher, and the result is a weak and empty outline drawing somewhat in the manner of Flaxman. Théodore de Banville's Promenade Galante, is depicted by Edmond Morin, who has a place in the history of French illustration in the 19th century as heritor of the ideals of elegance and refinement from Eisen, Cochin, and Marillier, though more languid and sentimental, but who is hardly of importance as an etcher. The same is true of Celestin Nanteuil, who interprets Louis Bouilhet's Le Sang des Géants, in a hard, dry, and matter-of-fact manner, and gives little evidence of that stormy fugue with which he was popularly sup-posed to produce his famous eaux-fortes noires, when he was the romantic illustrator and engraver par excellence, and used, so the legend ran, to shout to his assistants, as his fury was excited by the fumes of the acid, to bite his plates till they "cracked" (crevaient).

Nanteuil was a youth of only seventeen when he escaped from his art school in 1830 to join the band of Les Jeunes, who accompanied their demigod Victor Hugo to and from the theatre, and formed a faithful phalanx to applaud the first production of Hernani. "Jeune homme moyen-dge," he was called playfully by Gautier in those days, and it was from a mixture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that, as Beraldi says, he invented that illustrative formula which he applied with such contemporary success to works by Victor Hugo, Dumas, Petrus Borel, and Paul de Kock. But his was a shallow though showy talent, and the passing of romanticism left him stranded. He lived to regret the wasted time and facile triumphs of his youth, which apparently he felt had frustrated the more serious artistic triumphs fate once held in store for him — though doubtless this was no less an illusion than that which led him after the romantic will-o'-the-wisp. At all events, Beraldi tells us that when, about this time, Philippe Burty, friend and interpreter of Meryon, visited Nanteuil in his studio, "he found him little disposed to anecdote and of a haughty and reserved air" - the air of a man who has failed, and attributes his failure to the fault of others and an adverse fate.

A pupil of Nanteuil's was Edmond Hedouin who, like Morin, was noted for his fashionable elegance and grace, and who illustrated Sully-Prudhomme's sonnet, Silence et Nuit des Bois; while among the other illustrators may be mentioned Emile Boilvin, also a painter, who has little opportunity to display his affected prettiness in Jean Vireton's Rabelaisian episode, Apres la Harangue: Félix Régamey, a caricaturist, who visited and worked in both England and America, and who made, as far as Beraldi's records show, only the one etching which here accompanies the unfortunate Albert Glatigny's Le Roman Comique; Gustave Jundt, who illustrated many children's books, and who contributes a rather clever costume and character drawing for Emmanuel des Essarts' Les Incroyables — dandies of the Directoire period — and, of course, Gustave Dore, whose study of a lion for Léon Cladel's sonnet on that beast, reminds us of van Muyden, though it is not so well drawn, being quite flat and without bones or bulk in the body.

It was apparently Doré's first experiment with the needle, for Beraldi dates the real awakening of his interest in etching from a period three years later, or 1872. He then became very enthusiastic and produced some fifty-four plates dealing with a variety of subjects, and including several life-sized heads of Christ, one of which he is said to have executed in less than an hour; for he worked as rapidly with the needle on copper as he did with the pencil on the woodblock. According to Beraldi, Doré rarely bit his own plates; but sometimes he did so, and the printer Salmon has told how the artist's valet, who took a personal interest in his master's pursuits, used to rush into the printing office exclaiming: "Here is another plate that Monsieur and I have just finished!"

Dore's productivity in what, after all, remained for him an alien medium, contrasts with Gérome's total output of four etchings, one of which is the very slight and tentative sketch for Anatole France's Un Sénateur Romain. Other painters who produced a few plates only, were Jules Héreau, paired with Laurent-Pichart (Reverie) ; Auguste Feyen-Perrin, with Armande Silvestre (Nénuphars); Emile Lévy, with Autran (Le Masque) ; Victor Ranvier, with Emile Deschamps (Dernier Mirage).

The poets mentioned in the preceding paragraphs were all, or nearly all, of the youngest, neo-romantic, or Parnassian, generation. To them should be added certain others. For example, there is Jean Aicard, today a member of the French Academy, and better known as a writer of humorous picaresque novels dealing with the adventures of one Maurin, than as a poet. His sonnet, La Mer, on the other hand, was illustrated by one of the older etchers, Léon Gaucherel, who instructed so many pupils in the art — Flameng was one of them — that he was called by some admirers the "father of etching" — "let us say uncle, rather," remarked one dissenter. As a matter of fact, Gaucherel was an excellent crafts-man rather than an artist in the strict sense, and did his best work on plates that exhibit his skill as an architectural draughtsman and decorative designer. The specimen of his original work shown here is weak and amateurish. Nor is that sound reproductive etcher, Charles Courtry, seen to the best advantage in his plate for Francois Coppée's Fits de Louis XI. Coppée was the first of the new poets to win fame and to attract attention to the little group of which he was one of the original or "charter" members. To this, as we have seen, also belonged Catulle Mendes and Louis-Xavier Ricard. Both chose feminine subjects — Théodora and Theroigne de Méricourt — which were illustrated by Ingomar Frankel and Victor Giraud, respectively; while the English artist, Edward Edwards, who was so highly praised by his contemporaries, including Haden and Whistler, was associated with the poet Edouard Grénier in a maritime subject, the wreck of La Sulina; L.-M. Solon, an industrial artist attached to the French governmental works at Sevres, with Léon Valade (La Chute) ; Tancrède Abraham, with Arsène Houssaye (Le Pays Inconnu); and Francois-Louis Francais, with Victor de la Prade (Au Hord du Puits).

Not Gaucherel, but Jacque, is the real "father of French etching." He perhaps it is, who, for this reason, is most missed in the present collection among the artist contributors. Whistler, Legros, and Appian are, however, also important absentees. But, on the other hand, here are Corot and Millet, Haden and Daubigny, Manet and Jongkind, Bracquemond and Jacquemart, Raj on and Veyrassat, and several other excellent artists or skillful craftsman, though they are by no means all represented by their best work. Thus Corot's Paysage Normand (for a poem by André Lemoyne), afterwards published under the title of Dans les Dunes; Souvenir des Bois da la Haye is thoroughly charming and characteristic, as are also Millet's study of a peasant girl with a spindle tending goats, for a poem by Albert Mérat, and Jongkind's winter scene, with skaters, on a Dutch canal, Batavia — the more interesting of two studies which he made of this subject — for one by Robert Luzarche. Bracquemond's L'Eclipse, to the words of the elder romantic poet, Auguste Vacquerie is a rather piquant conception realized with considerable feeling for design, while Beraldi calls Ribot's Une Grande Douleur, which shows Josephin Soulary's ouvrier mourning over a broken pipe, that artist's best work on copper.

But Haden's treatment of trees and of light and shade on the forest floor in La Rookery (Ernest d'Hervilly), is in that extravagantly blurred and blotted style that stirred Ruskin's wrath, and suggests Chinese "bunginja," or mandarin, art. Manet's Fleur Exotique (Armand Renaud) is too obviously an imitation — and a superficial imitation — of Goya. Daubigny's Le Verger, while entirely expressive of the sentimental spirit of Gabriel Marc's text, is hardly on a level with his highest achievements in painter-etching. Jacque-mart's La Pivoine, for a sonnet by Judith Gautier, daughter of Theophile, and the only woman represented in the collection — is an insipid japonaiserie without such delicacy in the drawing as we would have expected from this master of still life. Rajon's Le Pitre (Paul Verlaine), in spite of its technical competence, is a triviality of the illustrated papers; and Veyrassat's Supplice de Judas dans l'Enfer (Antoni Deschamps), is a crude attempt to treat an imaginative subject somewhat outside the proper domain of etching.

From such failures, or comparative failures, of recognized masters, it is pleasant to pass to the successes, or at least the intelligent attempts, of lesser-known men. G. Howard, for example, in his study of windswept trees on a hillside, for Révolte, by Leon Dierx — latest and almost the last of the prominent Parnassians to pass away — shows a perception of the painter-etcher's true linear method superior to that of some of his better-known contemporaries; Jules Michelin, in Souvenir du Bas-Breau (André Theuriet), if less poetical and imaginative, brings to the realization of his intentions a more complete mastery of medium and method (his treatment of trees reminds us at times of Storm van's Gravesande in certain of the latter's woodland studies) ; and Lansyer, in La Fontaine (George Lafenestre), seems to have come under the classical influence of Nicholas Berchem and Claude Lorrain.

Altogether it will be seen that Sonnets et Eaux-fortes has historical interest rather than artistic value of a high order. The opportunity offered, it might seem, by the ingenious plan of the publication, was by no means improved to the fullest extent. Not that the artists them-selves were entirely responsible for the failure of so interesting an experiment. Some were, indeed, poor etchers, without sufficient practice in the art or knowledge of its principles, while others were not so much artists as skillful craftsmen, incapable of important creative effort. But several were set tasks which, if not impossible, were, at any rate, difficult and ill-adapted to the display of the best possibilities of the medium. But the ultimate reason for the slight and disappointing results is doubtless to be sought in the obligation imposed upon the artist to realize the idea of another rather than his own — to become an illustrator — and this in the most intensely personal and spontaneous of mediums. It is therefore not remarkable that, after all, those who succeeded best in the present undertaking were not always the most accomplished etchers, or even the finest artists, but often merely those who had a special talent for illustration, and were men of clever attainments rather than of genius.

But if the artistic level of Sonnets et Eaux-fortes is not high, its contents are at least varied and interesting, and represent a wide range of tastes and talents. On the whole, moreover, the prints are quite worthy of the poems which they accompany, and the majority of which are anecdotal or descriptive trifles. There are few really fine sonnets among them, and there is no particular reason why the greater number should have been cast in sonnet, rather than in any other, form. Some of the younger authors were, in after years, to achieve a fame as conspicuous as that then enjoyed by their elders — but not, as in the case of Verlaine, for example, through the sort of work by which they are represented in Sonnets et Eaux-fortes. This, as we have said, was a virtual continuation of Parnasse Contemporain, the publication primarily, of a school. But, writes M. Remy de Gourmont, in the study of Dierx alluded to above, "of all these poets of Parnassus, none was popular or even known to the public in so far as he was Parnassian, that is to say, impassible and impeccable. The reason is, that they all had, in these years — this is true even of Coppée and Verlaine — an attitude of painter-decorators. They described life, above all in its brilliant and picturesque parts, and disdained to participate in it otherwise than by very lofty illusions."

It is this sort of painter-decorating — if not painter-etching! — that dominates Sonnets et Eaux-fortes. There is no lack of skill, cleverness, and witty invention in certain of the sonnets, but there is little of that sentiment which is the soul of poetry, and we print the three that follow mainly because of the secondary interest which attaches to them through their association with the work of three etchers, Corot, Millet, and Jongkind. Of them the first, by André Lemoyne, for Corot's Paysage Normand, has, perhaps, the truest accent of sincerity and charm: —

"J'aime a suivre le bord des petites rivieres
Qui cheminent sans bruit dans les bas-fonds herbeux
A leur fil d'argent clair viennent boire les boeufs
Et tournoyer le vol des jaunes lavandieres.

J'en sais qui passent loin des grands fleuves bourbeux,
Diaphanes miroirs des plantes printanieres;
Et les reines-des-pres s'y penchent les premieres,
En écoutant jaser cinq ou six flots verbeux.

Ma petite riviere a la mer pour voisine:
Plus d'un martin-pecheur vetu d'aigue-marine
Coupe, sans y songer, le vol du goeland;

Et parfois, ébloui de l'immensité bleue,
L'oiseau depayse, d'un brusque tour de queue,
Vers les saules remonte et va tout droit filant."

The title of Albert Mérat's sonnet is simply Sur une Composition de F. Millet, which might lead one to sup-pose that, reversing what appears to be the usual order, the poem was written to accompany the sonnet, were it not for the fact that the scene described does not at all tally with what the artist has depicted. Therefore we assume that the sonnet was inspired by another picture by Millet who, for one reason or another, substituted a second sketch for the first : —

"C'est la terre sans fleurs de poupre et sans décor,
Le champs dur qui nourrit les bras et leur résiste.
Septembre clans le ciel a mis sa paleur triste,
Et le soir au couchant se lit en un trait d'or.

L'heure qui vient n'a pas de fantomes encor,
Mais des solennités oil le contour persiste.
Le tableau se deroule ample, sans jeu d'artiste:
On dirait un poeme ancien d'un grand essor.

Deux jeunes filles font vivre le paysage;
L'une grave et debout, l'autre dont le visage
Est comme un fruit d'éte substantiel et clair.

Leur front ne pense pas, leurs yeux revent a peine;
Mais, subissant le rhythme austere de la plaine,
Elles suivent un vol de cigognes dans fair."

Jongkind certainly exercised an extreme latitude in illustrating the following sonnet entitled Batavia, by Robert Luzarche, which suggests that this is possibly one reason why his accomplished sketch is one of the freest and most satisfactory in the book: —

"La Hollande me plait; j'adore en ses laideurs
Autant qu'en ses beautés, sous un ciel monotone,
Ce pays terne et froid comme une fin d'automne,
Rayé de canaux verts aux calmes profondeurs.

J'aime ses cabarets encombrés de fumeurs
Et d'énormes barils ventrus ou l'on entonne
Le genièvre; ses vieux marins que rien &tonne,
Et ses immenses quais remplis d'acres odeurs.

Parfois meme, en hiver, it m'a pris fantasie
D'aller goiter encor l'étrange poésie
De ses marais sans fin, de son pale soleil

Que je voyais le soir, clans les horizons vagues,
S'eteindre tristement parmi Ies eaux sans vagues
Qui dorment dans les pres vastes d'un lourd sommeil."


Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com