Quebec - Birge Harrison, Artist
( Originally Published 1907 )
A PARAGRAPH in the "Telegraph" announced the pleasing intelligence to all the admirers of good art in Quebec that Mr. Harrison had consented to exhibit three or four of his more recent winter pictures of Quebec and vicinity.
Birge Harrison was born in Philadelphia in 1854. He commenced his art training in the Academy of Fine Arts in his natal city, but within a year this ambitious and talented young American was on his way to Paris, There he remained for twelve years a conscientious student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, working under such men as Carolus Duran, Alexandre Cabanel and other distinguished masters. He then returned to the United States, went to Arizona and lived for a year or more with the Navajho and Moquis Indians, painting every conceivable side of the wild life of these nomads of the southwest. This work about completed, Mr. Harrison set out on a tour around the world, painting, writing, and illustrating as he travelled. During this tour he visited Holland, France, England, Italy, Spain, Tangiers, Egypt, South Africa, Ceylon, India, Australia, South Sea Islands, Sandwich Islands, Mexico, and back to the United States. He contributed an account of his journeyings to "Harper's Monthly," "Century," "Scribner's" and other periodicals.
Mr. Harrison is a member of the "National Academy of Design," the "Society of American Artists," the "Century Club," the "Salmagundi Club" all of New York, Fellow of "Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts," "Hors Concours" at Paris Salon. He has received medals at the Paris Salon, the "Exposition Universelle." Paris, the World's Fair, Chicago, the "Pan-American," Buffalo, and the St. Louis Exposition. He is represented by important paintings in the following permanent collections:— The Municipal Museum of Marseilles and Reims, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Institution of Chicago. He is also represented in a large number of the private collections of Europe and America. He is professor of the Woodstock School of Art, New York.
Quebec of late years has become the seat of Mr. Harrison's important winter work. To quote his own words :—"I've painted pretty much all over the world, but nowhere have I found such a mine of exquisite material for the painter. May it never be spoiled!"
The following are the titles of the four pictures that Mr. Harrison exhibits
Moonlight from the Terrace.
Mr. Harrison, the "Painter of the Snows," takes foremost rank among that clever group of American artists who have won international reputation for themselves. Birge Harrison comes of a family of distinguished artists. His brother Alexandre, who has lived in France for the past thirty years, is ranked as the greatest of living marine painters. Another brother Butler, since dead, had also won his spurs as among the ;coming painters.
Birge Harrison is original, and of a highly poetic temperament that is shown in an exalted sense of truth and harmony of thought and color. His compositions are beautifully balanced and in their entirety do we discover their charm. It is not the sunset, nor the landscape that centres our interest, but the relations of one to the other that make for a rhythmic whole. Then as a colorist Mr. Harrison may justly lay claim to as delicate a perception of beauty and tenderness as he has for form and composition. In all these qualities lies the strength of the master.
In the "Moonlight from the Terrace" we perhaps find Mr. Harrison at his best. It is a cleverly drawn picture of a somewhat difficult subject. A moon, which, however, is not visible, throws its light upon the cove hillside and over the river in quivering rays that almost dance. The snow lies cold in the white light of the moon. The Levis shore is dimly defined, but here and there a light twinkles from some unseen house. The feeling of night, with a clear cold moonlight is remarkably cleverly rendered in the snow at the foot of the cliff and on hillside, and in the small building that stands on the wharf head. The poetry of this picture gives it the first claim to our consideration.
Turning to the "Ice Harvest" we see a luminous chrome yellow sunset—the whole sky to the zenith suffused with the rich golden tone. The St. Lawrence to Sillery ice-bound, covered with snow and in the purple grays of the late day but catching here and there some of the reflections of the sky. Piled on the river's surface are great cakes of freshly cut ice that are full of iridescent colors. A horse, sleigh, and driver are approaching with their load. This picture will to some extent divide the honors with "The Moonlight."
In "Across the St. Charles" Mr. Harrison has treated an interesting subject in so masterly and effective a manner as to endow it with a charm that lingers. A sunset and a winter day's light mist with belching smoke from tall factory chimneys has given the artist the chance to cloak the sordidness of masses of brick buildings and ugly wharves in tender soft grays through which the churches, walls and convents of the Upper Town appear as but shadowy forms. Over the winrowed snow ice on the river is reflected a luminous broken ray of the light of the waning day. But for this one great ray of light, which, however, is quite in keeping with the hour, the picture is pitched in the key of gray misty eve. "A Sunset on the St. Lawrence" is a simple composition depending for its claim for our admiration in the beautiful roseate sunset that melts into a mist and suffuses it with tender color, and over the snow ice the same warm colors play upon its surface.
Mr. Harrison is known as the Painter of the Snows, and certainly no other man's snow pictures that we know of, possess that undefinable quality of snow instead of paint.
"The Shadow of Quebec", the illustration of which is shown here very imperfectly in black and white, was purchased by the trustees of the Corcoran Art Galleries of Washington.