Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Painters

( Originally Published 1913 )

IF background and tradition are needed for literature, they are even more needed for art, and it is curiously worth noting that the background and traditions of England did not serve for her child across the sea. In both literature and art, so far as vital and significant achievement is concerned, the young nation had to find itself, and, starting from a rude and rough beginning, work its way upward of its own strength. Perhaps in no other way may the youth of America be so completely realized as by the thought that all of real importance in both literature and art which she can boast has been produced within the past ninety years—little more than the three score years and ten which the Psalmist assigned as the span of a single life.

We do not mean to say that European influence is not plainly to be traced in both our art and literature. There is a family resemblance, so to speak, as between a child and its parents, and yet the child has an individuality of its own. In literature, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whitman are distinctively American; and, as we shall find, so are our masters of painting and sculpture.

American art begins with John Singleton Copley. There had been daubers before him, as there were after, but Copley was the first man born in America who produced paintings which the world still contemplates with pleasure. Copley was born in Boston in 1737, his father dying shortly afterwards, and his mother supporting herself by keeping a tobacco shop. About 1746 she married again, most fortunately for her son, for her second husband was Peter Pelham, a mezzotint engraver of considerable merit, who gave the boy lessons in drawing. He proved an apt and precocious pupil, and by the time he had reached seventeen had executed a number of portraits.

His reputation steadily increased, and his income from his work was so satisfactory that he hesitated to try his fortunes in the larger field of London. Finally, in 1774, he sailed for England, and in the next year sent for his family to join him there. The opening of the Revolution persuaded him to stay in England, as there would be no demand for his work in America in so tumultuous a time. In London his talents brought him ample patronage, his income enabled him to live the stately and dignified life he loved, so that, when the Revolution ended, there seemed no reason why he should abandon it for the crudities of Boston. He therefore continued in London until the end of his life, which came in 1615.

Copley was a laborious and painstaking craftsman, setting down what he saw upon canvas with uncompromising sincerity. He worked. very slowly and many stories are told of how he tried the patience of his sitters. The result was a series of portraits which preserve the very spirit of the age—serious, self-reliant and capable, pompous and lacking humor. His later work has an atmosphere and repose which his early work lacks, but it is Iess important to America. His early portraits, which hang on the walls of so many Boston homes, and which Oliver Wendell Holmes called the titles of nobility of the old Boston families, are priceless documents of history.

Copley was an artist from choice rather than necessity; he followed painting because it assured him a good livelihood, and he was a patient and pains-taking craftsman. His life was serene and happy; he was without the tribulations, as he seems to have been without the enthusiasms of the great artist. Not so with his most famous contemporary, Benjamin West, whose life was filled to overflowing with the contrast and picturesqueness which Copley's lacked.

West was born in 1738 at a little Pennsylvania frontier settlement. His parents were Quakers, and to the rigor and simplicity of frontier life were added those of that sect. But even these handicaps could not turn the boy aside from his vocation, for he was a born painter, if there ever was one. At the age of six he tried to draw, with red and black ink, a likeness of a baby ho had been set to watch ; a year later, a party of friendly Indians, amused by some sketches of birds and leaves he showed them, taught him how to prepare the red and yellow colors which they used on their ornaments. His mother furnished some indigo, brushes were secured by clipping the family cat—no doubt greatly to its disgust—and with these crude materials he set to work.

His success won him the present of a box of paints from a relative in Philadelphia. With that treasure the boy lived and slept, and his mother, finally discovering that he was running away from school, found him in the garret with a picture before him which she refused to let him finish lest he should spoil it. That painting was preserved to be exhibited sixty-six years later.

The boy's talent was so evident, and his determination to be a painter so fixed, that his parents finally overcame their scruples against an occupation which they considered vain and useless, and sent him to Philadelphia. There he lived as frugally as possible, saving his money for a trip to Italy, and finally, at the age of twenty-two, set sail for Europe.

His success there was immediate. He gained friends in the most influential circles, spent three years in study in Italy, and going to London in 1764, received so many commissions that he decided to live there permanently. He wrote home for his father to join him, and to bring with him a Miss Shewell, to whom West was betrothed. He also wrote to the young lady, stating that his father would sail at a certain time, and asking her to join him. The letter fell into the hands of Miss Shewell's brother, who objected to West for some reason, and who promptly locked the girl in her room. Three friends of West's concluded that this outrage upon true love was not to be endured, smuggled a rope ladder to her, and got her out of the house and safely on board the vessel. These three friends were Benjamin Franklin, Francis Hopkinson and William White, the latter the first Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, and the exploit was one which they were always proud to remember. Miss Shewell reached London safely and the lovers were happily married.

Meanwhile West's success had been given a sudden impetus by his introduction to King George III. The two men became lifelong friends, and the King gave him commission after commission, culminating in a command to decorate the Royal Chapel at Windsor. His first reverse came when the King's mind began to fail. His commissions were cancelled and his pensions stopped. He was deposed from the Presidency of the Royal Academy, which he had founded, and was for a time in needy circumstances; but the tide soon turned, and his last years were marked by the production of a number of great paintings. He died at the age of eighty-two, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral with splendid ceremonies. So ended one of the most remarkable careers in history.

West was, perhaps, more notable as a man than as an artist, for his fame as a painter has steadily declined. His greatest service to art was the example he set of painting historical groups in the costume of the period instead of in the vestments of the early Romans, as had been the custom. This innovation was made by him in his picture of the death of General Wolfe, and created no little disturbance. His friends, including Reynolds, protested against such a desecration of tradition; even the King questioned him, and, West replied that the painter should be bound by truth as well as the historian, and to represent a group of English soldiers in the year 1758 as dressed in classic costume was absurd. After the picture was completed, Reynolds was the first to declare that West had won, and that his picture would occasion a revolution in art---as, indeed, it did.

It is difficult to understand the habit of thought which insisted on clothing great men in garments they could never by any possibility have worn, yet it persisted until a comparatively late day. The most famous example in this country is Greenough's statue of Washington, just outside the Capitol. One looks at it with a certain sense of shock, for the Father of His Country is sitting half-naked, in a great arm chair, with some drapery over his legs, and a fold hanging over one shoulder. We shall have occasion in the next chapter to speak of it and of its maker.

Another of West's services to art was the whole-hearted way in which he extended a helping hand to any who needed it. He was always willing to give such instruction as he could, and among his pupils were at least four men who added not a little to American art—Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Thomas Sully.

Peale was born in Maryland in 1741, and was, among other things, a saddler, a coach-maker, a clock-maker and a silversmith. Ile finally decided to add painting to his other accomplishments, so he secured some painting materials and a book of instructions and set to work. In 1770, a number of gentlemen of Annapolis furnished him with enough money to go to England, a loan which he promised to repay with pictures upon his return. West received him kindly, and when Peale's money gave out, as it soon did, welcomed him into his own house. Peale remained in London for four years, returning to America in time to join Washington as a captain of volunteers, and to take part in the battles of Trenton and Germantown.

After the war he continued painting, but, in 1801, his mind, always alert for new experiences, was led away in a strange direction. The bones of a mammoth were discovered in Ulster County, New York, and Peale secured possession of them, had them taken to Philadelphia, and started a museum. It rapidly increased in size, for all sorts of curiosities poured in upon him, and he began a series of lectures on natural history, which, whether learned or not, proved so interesting that large and distinguished audiences gathered to hear him. In 1805, he founded the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest and most flourishing institution of the kind in the country. Ile lived to a hale old age, never having known sickness, and dying as the result of incautious exposure. Like West, his life is more interesting than his work, for while he painted fairly good portraits, they were the work rather of a skilled craftsman than of an artist.

The second of West's pupils whom we have mentioned, Gilbert Stuart, was by far the greatest of the earlier artists. He was born near Newport, R. I., in 1755, his father being a Jacobite refugee from Scotland. He began to paint at an early age, worked faithfully at drawing, and finally, at the age of nine-teen, began portrait painting in earnest. One of his first pictures was a striking example of a remarkable characteristic, the power of visual memory, which he retained through his whole life. His grandmother had died five or six years before, but he painted a portrait of her, producing so striking a likeness that it immediately brought him orders for others. But Newport had grown distasteful to him, and in 1775, he started for London.

How he got there is not certainly known, but get there he did, without money or friends, or much hope of making either, and for three years lived a precarious life, earning a little money, borrowing what he could, twice imprisoned for debt, and with it all so gay and brilliant and talented that those he wronged most loved him most. Finally, he was introduced to Benjamin West, and found in him an invaluable friend and patron. For nearly four years, Stuart worked as West's student and assistant, steadily improving in drawing, developing a technique of astonishing merit, and, more than that, one that was all his own.

His portraits soon attracted attention, and at the end of a few years, he was earning a large income. But he squandered it so recklessly that he was finally forced to flee to Ireland to escape his creditors. They pursued him, threw him into prison, and the legend is that he painted most of the Irish aristocracy in his cell in the Dublin jail.

At last, in 1792, he returned to America, animated by a desire to paint a portrait of Washington. Arrangements for a sitting were made, but it is related that Stuart, although he had painted many famous men and was at ease in most society, found himself strangely embarrassed in Washington's presence. The President was kindly and courteous, but the portrait was a failure. He tried again, and produced the portrait which remains to this day the accepted likeness of the First American. You will find it as the frontispiece to " Men of Action," and it is worth examining closely, for it is an example of art rarely surpassed, as well as a remarkable portrait of our most remarkable citizen.

Gilbert Stuart still holds his place among the greatest of American portrait painters. His heads, painted simply and without artifice, and yet with high imagination, are unsurpassed; they possess in-sight, they accomplish that greatest of all tasks, the delineation of character. Stuart's portraits — as every portrait must, to be truly great—show not only how his sitters looked but what they were. Art can accomplish no more than that.

The anecdotes which are told of him are innumerable, and most of them have to do with his hot temper, which grew hotter and hotter as his years increased and he became more and more a publie character. One day, a loving husband, whose wife Stuart had put on canvas in an unusually uncom- promising way, complained that the portrait did not do her justice.

" What an infernal business is this of a portrait painter," Stuart cried, at last, his patience giving way. " You bring him a potato and expect him to paint you a peach! "

But look at his portrait at the beginning of this, chapter, and you will see a witty and kindly old gentleman, as well as an irascible one.

John Trumbull was a student of West's at the same time that Stuart was. He was a year younger, and was a son of that Jonathan Trumbull, after-wards governor of Connecticut, whose title of Brother Jonathan, given him by Washington, became afterwards a sort of national nickname. He was an infant prodigy, graduating from Harvard at an age when most boys were entering, and afterwards going to Boston to take lessons from Copley. The out-break of the Revolution stopped his studies; he enlisted in the army, won rapid promotion, and finally resigned in a huff because he thought his commission as colonel incorrectly dated.

In 1780, he sailed for France, on his way to London, met Benjamin Franklin in Paris and from him secured a letter of introduction to Benjamin West, who welcomed him with his unfailing cordiality; but he had scarcely commenced his studies when lie was arrested and thrown into prison. The reason was the arrest and execution at New York of Major André, who was captured with Benedict Arnold's treasonable correspondence hidden in his boot, and who was hanged as a spy. Knowing that Trumbull had been an officer in the American army, and anxious to avenge André's death, the King ordered his arrest, but West interceded for him and secured his release several weeks later.

Warned that England was unsafe for him, Trumbull returned to America and remained there until after the close of the Revolution. The beginning of 1784 saw him again in London, at work on his two famous paintings, "The Battle of Bunker Hill" and " The Death of General Montgomery," and from that time until his death he was occupied almost exclusively with the painting of pictures illustrating events in American history — " The Surrender of Cornwallis," " The Battle of Princeton," " The Cap-tare of the Hessians at Trenton," to mention only three. In 1816 he received a commission to paint four of the eight commemorative pictures in the Capitol at Washington, and completed the last one eight years later, this being his last important work.

Trumbull is in no respect to be compared with Gilbert Stuart, but his work was done with a pains-taking accuracy which makes it valuable as a historical document. For the personages of his pictures he painted a great number of miniatures from life, which, in many eases, are the only surviving presentments of some of the most prominent men of the time.

After Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully was by far the greatest of the men who studied in West's studio. Stuart aside, there was no American painter of the day to equal him. He was born in England in 1783, but was brought to this country by his parents at the age of nine. The Sullys were actors of some talent and secured an engagement at Charleston, South Carolina, and there the boy was placed first in school, and then in the office of an insurance broker. He spent so much time making sketches that his employer decided he was destined for art and not for business, and secured another clerk.

Young Sully thoroughly agreed with this and started out to be an artist. He had no money, nor means of earning any, but he managed to secure some desultory instruction, and this, added to his native talent, enabled him to begin to paint portraits for which uncritical persons were willing to pay. But it was a hard road, and none was more conscious of his deficiencies than himself. He knew that he needed training, and finally started for England with a purse of four hundred dollars in his pocket, which had been subscribed by friends, who were each to be repaid by a copy of an old master.

Arrived at London, Sully at once got himself introduced to Benjamin West, who received him "like a father," admitted him to his studio, and aided him in many ways. He remained there, painting by day, drawing by night, studying anatomy in every spare moment, and living on bread and potatoes and water in order to make his money last as long as possible. At the end of nine months it was gone, and he was forced to return to America.

But those nine months of study had given him just what he needed, and his talent soon gained recognition. Orders poured in upon him at good prices ; and though his prosperity afterwards dwindled some-what, he never again experienced the pangs of poverty. He made Philadelphia his home, and for nearly half a century occupied a house on Chestnut Street which had been built for him by Stephen Girard. His work is in every way worthy of respect—firm and serious and rich with a warm and mellow color.

Benjamin West had many other pupils—indeed, his studio was a sort of incubator for American artists—but none of them won any permanent fame. One, Washington Allston, achieved considerable con-temporary reputation, but it seems to have resulted more from his own winning personality than from his work. He possessed a charm which fairly dazzled all who met him, notably Coleridge and Washington. Irving. His smaller canvasses, graceful figures or heads, to which he attached little importance, are more admired to-day than his more ambitious ones.

Another pupil was John Vanderlyn, of Dutch stock, as his name shows, a protégé of Aaron Burr, and the painter of the best known portrait of his daughter, Theodosia, as well as of Burr himself. When Burr, an outcast in fortune and men's eyes, fled to Pans, Vanderlyn, who had made some reputation there, was able to repay, to some extent, the kindness which Burr had shown him. His work shows care and serious thought, but his last years were embittered by the indifference of the public, and he died in want.

That versatile genius and hale old man, Charles Willson Peale, to whom we have already referred, had many children, and he christened them with most distinguished names, so that, in the end, he could boast himself the father of Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian. Alas that the name does not make the man! Only one of them, Rembrandt, achieved any distinction in art, and that but a faint and far-off reflection of the master whose name he bore.

Like his father, he was interested in many things besides his art; he conducted a museum at Baltimore, introduced illuminating gas there, wrote voluminous memoirs, and, living until 1860, became a sort of ,dean of the profession. An example of his work will be found in " Men of Action," the likeness of Thomas Jefferson given there being a reproduction from a portrait painted by him. His portraits are not held in high estimation at the present day, for, while correct enough in drawing, they show little insight. We have come to demand something more than mechanical skill, and that " something more," which makes the artist and divides him from the artisan, is exactly what Rembrandt Peale did not possess.

It is interesting, too, to note that one of the most promising painters of the time was S. F. B. Morse. In the Yale School of Fine Arts hangs a portrait of Mrs. De Forest, and in the New York City Hall one of Lafayette, both of them from his brush, and both not unworthy the best traditions of American art. But a chance conversation about electricity turned his thoughts in that direction, and he abandoned painting for invention—the result being the electric telegraph. We shall speak of him further in the chapter on inventors.

The passing of Washington Allston and his group marked the end of Benjamin West's influence, and,, in a way, of English influence, on American painting. It marked, too, a lapse in interest, for it was a long time before it found for itself an adequate mode of expression. There are, however, two or three men of the period whom we must mention, not so much because of their achievements, which had little significance, as because of their remarkable and inspiring lives, Chester Harding, reared on the New York frontier,, a typical back-woodsman, by turns a peddler, a tavern-keeper, and house-painter, and a failure at all of them, got so deeply in debt that he ran away to Pittsburg to escape his creditors, and there, to his amazement, one day saw an itinerant painter painting a portrait. Before that, he had secured work of some sort, and his wife had joined him. Filled with admiration for the artist's work, he procured a board and some paint, and sat down to paint a portrait of his wife. He actually did produce a likeness, and, delighted at the result, practiced a while longer, and then, proceeding to Paris, Kentucky—perhaps through some association of the name with the great art centre of Europe—boldly announced himself as a portrait painter, and got about a hundred people to pay him twenty-five dollars apiece to paint them.

He spent some time at Cincinnati, and got as far west as St. Louis, where he journeyed nearly a hundred miles to find Daniel Boone living in his log cabin on his Missouri land, and painted the portrait of that old pioneer which is reproduced in " Men of Action." Boone was at that time ninety years of age, and Harding found him living almost alone, roasting a piece of venison on the end of his ramrod, as had been his custom all his life.

One of the most surprising things in the history of American art is the facility with which men of all trades turned to portrait painting, apparently as a last resort, and managed to make a living at it. During the first half of the last century, the country seems to have been overrun with wandering portrait painters, whose only equipment for the art was some paint and a bundle of brushes. They had, for the most part, no training, and that anyone, in a time when money was scarce and hardly earned, should have paid it out for the wretched daubs these men produced is a great mystery. But they did pay it out, and, as we have seen, Harding earned no less than twenty-five hundred dollars in a comparatively short time.

With such of this money as he had been able to save, he went to Philadelphia and spent two months in study there; then he returned to his old home, and astonished his neighbors by paying his debts, He astonished them still more when they found he was making money by painting portraits, for which he now charged forty dollars each, and his aged grandfather felt obliged to protest.

" Chester," he said, having called him aside so that none could overhear, " I want to speak to you about your present mode of life. I think it no better than swindling to charge forty dollars for one of those effigies. Now I want you to give up this way of living and settle down on a farm and become a respectable man."

However excellent this advice may have been, Chester had gone too far to heed it. He had decided to go to England, but he stayed in America long enough to earn money to buy a farm for his parents and to settle his own family at Northampton. This duty accomplished, he set sail for London, and his success there was immediate, due as much to his remarkable personality as to his work. He returned to America in 1826, and spent the rest of his life here, painting most of the political leaders of the country. It has been said of his portraits that his heads are as solid as iron and his coats as uncompromising as tin, while his faces shine like burnished platters.

Remarkable as Harding's story is, it is no more so than that of many of his contemporaries. Francis Alexander, for instance, born in Connecticut in 1800, a farm boy and afterwards a school teacher, never attempted painting until he was over twenty. Then one day, having caught a pickerel, its beauty re-minded him of a box of water-colors a boy had left him, and he attempted to paint the fish, with such success that he was filled with amazement and de-light. He practiced a while longer, decorating the white-washed walls of a room with rude landscapes filled with cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and chickens. All the neighbors came to see his work and marvelled at it, though none of them cared to have his house similarly decorated; but finally one of them offered Alexander five dollars if he would paint a full-length portrait of a child.

Other orders followed, and finally with sixty dollars in his pocket, he started for New York. Some years later, he sought Gilbert Stuart, at Huston, got some systematic instruction and ended by painting very passable portraits.

Some amusing stories are told of the persistency with which he hunted for orders. In 1842, Charles Dickens visited America for the first time, and while his ship was yet out of sight of land, the pilot -clambered on board, and after him Alexander, who begged the great novelist for the privilege of painting his portrait. Dickens, amused at his enterprise, consented, and Alexander's studio, during the sittings, became the centre of literary Boston. It is a curious commentary upon Alexander's development that, after a trip or two abroad, he professed to find the crudities of his native land unbearable, and spent his last years in Italy.

A third self-made artist was John Neagle, whose portrait of Gilbert Stuart, which heads this chapter, is the best that exists. Neagle was apprenticed, when a boy, to a coach-painter, and soon was spending his spare time practicing a more ambitious branch of the painting profession. As soon as he was through his apprenticeship he set up as a portrait painter, and travelled over the mountains to Lexington, Kentucky, hoping to fare as well as Harding had. But he found the field already pre-empted by two other painters, one of whom, Matthew Jouett,, was an artist of considerable skill.

Neagle had a hard time getting back home again,. but he finally reached Philadelphia, and spent most of the remainder of his life there. Practice and study gave him a certain skill; he visited Boston and had the advantage of some instruction from Gilbert Stuart, but his work remained to the end inferior' to either Harding's or Alexander's.

Henry Inman had a more varied talent than any of these men, for besides portraits he painted genre scenes and landscapes, and excelled in all of them. At the age of fourteen, he had been apprenticed to a painter by the name of John Wesley Jarvis, a picturesque character, better remembered by his anecdotes than by his work; and when his apprenticeship was over he began painting on his own account in New York and afterwards in Philadelphia. For a time his popularity was very great and his income large; but reverses came, ill health followed, and he died in poverty at the age of forty-five.

It is worth noting that, up to this time, practically no landscapes had been produced by American artists. A few of them had tried their hands at landscape work, but soon abandoned it for the more profitable field of portraiture. The first of the American school of landscapists may be fairly said to be Asher Brown Durand. Durand was the eighth of eleven children, and his father, who managed a small farm on the slope of Orange Mountain, in New Jersey, was renowned throughout the neighborhood for his mechanical ingenuity. Much of this ingenuity his son inherited, and his first artistic effort was an attempt to reproduce the woodcuts in his school books by engraving them on little plates which he had beaten out of copper cents. This led to his being apprenticed to an engraver, and after his apprenticeship was over, he devoted three years to engraving the plate of Trumbull's " Signing of the Declaration of Independence." The work was excellently done and established Durand's reputation.

But he was not satisfied with engraving, and soon abandoned it for the more creative work of painting. He tried his hand first at portraiture, in which he had considerable success; but he turned more and more to landscape work as the years went on. He practiced it continuously until his eighty-third year. Then he laid down his brush forever, saying, " My hand will no longer do my bidding," and the remaining seven years of his life were passed peacefully on the farm where he was born.

Durand's work is marked throughout by sincerity and skill, if not by genius. His portraits were in a style especially his own, thorough in workmanship, delicately modelled and strongly painted. His landscapes, too, are his own, clearly and definitely finished, and with a bewitching silvery gray tone, which could have come only by painting direct from his subject in the open air, a practice exceptional at the time. His pictures are not " compositions," in the ' artistic sense of the term—that is, he did not combine detail into a balanced whole; they are rather studies or sketches from nature, with a central point of interest. But the work is done so truly and with such patience and enthusiasm that it deserves the sincerest admiration.

Joined with Durand as the earliest of the landscapists in Thomas Cole. Cole was born in England and did not come to America until he had reached his nineteenth year, but he afterwards became so good an American that he declared he would give his left hand to have been identified with America by birth instead of adoption. He found employment in Philadelphia as an engraver. Then, after some practice, he got together a kit of painting materials, and started to tramp about the country as a portraitist. He found the woods full of them, and competition so fierce that he was unable to make a living; but, determining to be an artist at any cost, he returned to Philadelphia and passed a fearful win-ter there, living on bread and water, half frozen by the cold, with only a cloth table-cover for overcoat and bed, and suffering tortures from inflammatory rheumatism. A second trying winter followed, but in the spring of 1825 he removed to New York, and his privations were at an end.

For in those years of suffering he had developed a delicate art as a landscapist, and he found a ready sale for his pictures, at first at low prices, it is true; but his fame spread rapidly, and he was able, in 1829, to go abroad and spend three years in Italy and England. He lived only to the age of forty-seven, his last years being passed principally in his studio in the Catskills, where some of his most famous pictures were painted, Cole was widely known for many years for the various series of moral and didactic pictures which he was fond of painting. Perhaps the most famous of these was his " Voyage of Life," showing infancy, youth, manhood, and old age floating down the stream of time. The taste of the period approved them, and they were especially popular for school-rooms, lecture-hails and other places where youth would have a chance to gaze upon and gather edification from them. It has since come to be recognized that the proper way to tell a story is by words and not by pictures, and " The Voyage of Life," and " Course of Empire," and " The Cross and the World " have, for the most part, been relegated to the attic.

Durand and Cole were the founders of the famous Hudson River; or White Mountain school, which loomed so large in American art half a century ago. Its members, now rather regarded in the light of primitives, gloried in the views of the Hudson, especially as seen from the Catskills, and journeyed into the wilds of the Rockies and the Yellowstone in search of sublime subjects—too sublime to be transferred to canvas. They loved nature—loved to copy her minutely and literally, loved to live in her hills and woods. Some of them came afterwards to see that, after all, this was not art, or only one of her lower forms—that to achieve a great result, a picture must express an idea.

Cole had a pupil and disciple, who did some admirable work, in Frederick Edwin Church. Church was born in 1826, and lived with Cole in his house in the Catskills until the latter's death. He then established himself in New York, and proceeded to visit the four corners of the earth in search for grandiose scenes. For he made the mistake of thinking that the greatness of a landscape lay in its subject rather than in its execution; so he painted views of the Andes, and Niagara, and Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo, and the Parthenon, throwing in rainbows and sunsets and mists for good measure. These pictures were welcomed with the wildest enthusiasm—just as Clarke Mills's statue of General Jackson had been, fifteen years before. Strange to say, they were not absurd, as that amazing figure is, but were really fine examples of clever handling and of a true, if untrained, feeling.

Two men attempted to duplicate Church's success, but with very indifferent result. They were Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. The former sought the Rocky Mountains for his subjects; the latter, the Yosemite and the Yellowstone; but neither of them succeeded in transferring to canvas more than a pale and unconvincing presentment of the wonders of those regions.

Durand also had a disciple, more famous than Cole's, in Frederick Kensett, the best known of the so-called Hudson River school. He was a close follower of Durand in believing that nature should be literally rendered, but he missed the truth of the older man by working in his studio from drawings and sketches, instead of in the open air direct from his subject. So he got into the habit of painting all shadows a transparent brown, and of making his rocks and trees brilliant by touching in high-lights where he thought they ought to be instead of where they actually should have been. He surpassed Du-rand, however, in his range of subject, for all hours and seasons had their charm for him, while Durand was really at home only in the full light of a summer day.

On this foundation a loftier structure was soon built and the builders were George Inness, Alex ander Wyant and Homer D. Martin. Inness was the oldest of the three, having been born in 1825, and was contemporary with some of the most arbitrary and hide-bound of the nature copyists. But he felt the weakness of the method and himself attained a much fuller and completer art. He seems to have dabbled with paint and brushes from his youth, but had little regular instruction, studying, for the most part, from prints of old pictures, and finally, in 1847, getting a chance to see the original when a friend offered to send him to Europe. He passed fifteen months in Rome, and afterwards a year at Paris.

A long period of assimilation followed, in which he developed a theory of art and struggled to transfer it to canvas. It was a sound and true theory, and is worth setting down here for its own sake-" The purpose of the painter," Inness held, " is to reproduce in other minds the impression which a scene had made upon him. A work of art does not appeal to the intellect or to the moral sense. Its aim is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion. It must be a single emotion, if the work has unity, as every such work should have, and the true beauty of the work consists in the beauty of the sentiment or emotion which it inspires. Its real greatness consists in the quality and force of this emotion."

To the very last, Inness's work was changing and developing to fit this theory. He steadily gained mastery of tone and breadth of handling, of true harmony, and it is his crowning merit that he does to some extent succeed in " reproducing in other minds the impression which the scene made upon him."

Alexander H. Wyant was a pupil of Illness, journeying from the little Ohio town where he was born to see him and to ask for advice and aid, which Inness's freely gave. Wyant's boyhood had been the American artist's usual one-an early fondness for drawing, a little practice, and then setting up as a painter. In 1873 he joined an expedition to Arizona and New Mexico. The hardships which he endured resulted in a stroke of paralysis and he was never again able to use his right hand. With an inspiring patience, he set to work to learn to use his left hand, and grew to be more skillful with it than he had been with his right.

But even at his best, Wyant's appeal is more limited than Inness's. He learned to paint a typical picture, a glimpse of rolling country seen between the trunks of tall and slender birches or maples, and was content to paint variations of it over and over. That he sometimes did it superbly cannot be denied, and he possessed a certain delicate refinement, an ability to throw upon his pictures the silvery shimmer of summer sunshine, in which no other American artist has ever surpassed him.

The third, and in some respects the most interesting member of the group is Homer D. Martin. Born in Albany in 1838, he turned naturally to painting and began to produce pictures after only two weeks' instruction. At first, he was a disciple of Kensett, with brown shadows and artificial high-lights, but study of nature soon cured these mannerisms, and he grew steadily in skill and power, until he succeeded in imparting to his pictures the deep, grave and sobering sentiment, which is the keynote of his work. His coast views, with their swirl and almost audible thunder of billow, are considered his crowning achievements.

This culmination of the Hudson River school brings us fairly to our own times and to the work of men still living, for the period just preceding and following the Civil War was marked by no new impulse in American art and by no work which demands attention. But in the early seventies, there were a number of Americans studying at home or in Europe who have since won a wide reputation for inspiring achievement.

Foremost among these is Elihu Vedder, born in New York City in 1836, and following, in his man-hood, the manifest bent of his childish years. He went to Paris before he was of age, and from there to Rome, where he spent five years. The five succeeding years were spent in America, and finally, in 1866, he settled in Rome and has since made it his home. He represents a revival of the classical quality of Raphael or Michael Angelo, though he be-longs to no school, and his work. has from the very first possessed a distinct originality. He has held to the old simplicity, which minimized detail and exalted the subject. General recognition came to him in 1884, when he published his illustrations to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam—the most sympathetic and beautiful pictorial comment which has ever been given any book of poetry. Since then he has executed much decorative work of a high order, though the mastery in this branch of the art is held by another.

That other is John LaFarge, admittedly the greatest mural painter the world has seen in recent years. His life was a fortunate one. His father, an officer of the French marine, came to this country in 1806, married, and purchased a great plantation in Louisiana, from which he derived a Iarge revenue. His son, born in 1835, grew up in an artistic atmosphere of books and pictures, and was early taught to draw. When, after some study of law, he visited Paris, his father advised him to take up the study of art as an accomplishment, and he entered one of the studios, merely as an amateur, at the same time gaining admittance, through his family connections, to the inner artistic circles of the capital. For some years he studied art, not to become a painter, but because he wished to understand and appreciate great work, and at the end of that time, he returned to New York and entered a lawyer's office.

But he was ill at ease there, and finally definitely decided upon an artistic career, went to Newport and worked under the guidance of William Morris Hunt, painting everything, but turning in the end to decorative work, and afterwards to stained glass. In these he has had no equal, and his high achievement, as well as the wide appreciation his work has won, is peculiarly grateful to Americans, since LaFarge's career has been characteristically American. He had little actual study in Europe, and yet possesses certain great traditions of the masters to a degree unequalled by any compatriot.

Of his work as a whole, it is difficult to speak adequately. Perhaps its most striking characteristic is the thought that is lavished upon it, so that the artist gives us the very spirit of his subjects. In inspiration, in handling, in drawing, and in color, LaFarge stands alone. No man of his generation has equalled him in the power to lift the spectator out of himself and into an enchanted world by the con summate harmony of strong, pure color. This feeling for color culminated in his stained-glass work—probably the richest color creations that have ever been fashioned on this earth. In all his varied mass of production there is nothing that lacks interest and charm.

We have referred to LaFarge's study under William Morris Hunt, and we must pause for a moment to speak of the older artist. His artistic career was in some respects an accident, for, developing a tendency to consumption in his late boyhood, his mother took him to Rome and remained there long enough to enable him to imbibe some of the artistic traditions of the Eternal City and to begin work with H. K. Brown, the sculptor. He found the work so congenial that he persuaded his mother to omit the course at Harvard which had been expected of him,. and to permit him to devote his life to art.

For five or six years thereafter, he studied at Rome and Paris, then for three years he was with Millet at Barbizon. Finally, in 1855, he returned to America, settling first at Newport and afterwards at Boston. He painted many portraits and figure pieces, and was an active social and artistic influence to the day of his death. As an artist, he lacked training, and remained to the end an amateur of great promise, which was never quite fulfilled.

And this brings us to the most eccentric, the most striking, and in some respects the greatest artist of his time—James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Whistler was born at Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834. His grandfather, of an English family long settled in Ireland, had been a member of Burgoyne's invading army, but afterwards joined the American service, and, after the close of the Revolution, settled at Lowell. His father was a distinguished engineer, and major in the army, and after his death in 1849, it was natural that young Whistler should turn to the army as a career. He entered West Point in 1851, remained there three years, and was finally dropped for deficiency in chemistry.

There was one study, however, in which he had distinguished himself, and that was drawing; and after his dismissal he went to Paris, where he studied for two or three years. Then he removed to London, where most of the remainder of his life was spent. His work, striking and original, was at first utterly misunderstood by the publie. The most famous piece of hostile criticism to which he was subjected was Ruskin's remark, after looking at " The Falling Rocket " in 1877, that here was a fellow with the effrontery to charge a hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face. Some further years of abuse followed, and then the pendulum swung the other way, and the eccentric artist became a sort of cult. In the end, he won a wide reputation, and before his death was recognized as one of the leading painters of his time.

And this reputation was deserved, for his work possesses a rare and delicate beauty, individual to it. His portraits of his mother and of Thomas Carlyle are admirable in their simplicity and quiet dignity; and many of his " harmonies," as he liked to call them, are so complete and flawless that they are works of pure delight. Whistler always declared that he had no desire to reproduce external nature, but only beautiful combinations of pattern and tone; what he meant, probably, was that he sought, not external realities, but the spirit which underlies them. That, of course, has been the quest of every great painter.

If Whistler was a law unto himself, so, in another sense, is Winslow Homer, who has worked out for himself an individual point of view and method of expression. Born in Boston in 1836, and early developing a taste for drawing, he entered a lithographer's shop at the age of nineteen and two years later set up for himself. During the Civil War he acted as correspondent and artist for Harper's Weekly, and, when peace came, began his paintings with a series of army scenes. After that he tried his hand at landscape, and finally found his real vocation as a painter of the sea. From the first, his pictures possessed obvious sincerity. More than that, they convince by their absolute veracity, as a reproduction of the thing seen-seen, be it understood, by the eyes of the artist—and so they have lived and been remembered where more ambitious work would have been forgotten. Again, he chooses his subjects with a fine disregard of what other men have done or decided that it was impossible to do, and painted them in a manner wholly independent and original. No other artist has so conveyed on canvas the weight and buoyancy and enormous force of water; no one else approaches his as an interpreter of the power of the sea.

Lineal successor of Inness is Dwight William Tryon, not that his work resembles the older man's, but because both paint the American landscape with a deep personal feeling and with a superb technique. Tryon has not yet developed into so commanding a figure as Inness, but there is no telling what the future holds for him, for his work seems as full of poetry and emotion as the older man's, with a spirit more delicate and a foundation more firm.

The work of Francis D. Millet has attracted wide attention and is also full of promise and inspiration. Millet has the American versatility-he has been a war-correspondent, an illustrator, has written travels, criticism, and even fiction, has acted as an expert on old pictures, raised carnations, and even, in time of need, performed surgical operations on wounded soldiers—all of it, not as an amateur, but as a professional asking no odds of anyone. In addition to which, he has been a painter, and a painter whose work has shown no sign of haste or distraction. The quiet, human side of English life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is what has most appealed to him, the country parlors and white-washed kitchens, peopled with travellers and buxom serving-maids, and these groups are unusually attractive and well executed.

Allied with Millet in taste and viewpoint, and with a much wider popularity, is Edwin A. Abbey. Beginning his career as an illustrator, he soon reached the front rank in that profession, especially with his illustrations of classic English poems, into whose spirit he has entered so completely that he might better be called their interpreter than their illusr trator. From pen-and-ink work, he progressed naturally to oil, and here, too, he has achieved some notable triumphs—so notable, indeed, that, though American, he was chosen by the English government to paint the official picture of the coronation of King Edward VII. It is a curious coincidence that the official picture of the coronation of Queen Victoria was also painted by an American, C. R. Leslie.

More important than Abbey, and perhaps the greatest American artist alive today is John Singer Sargent, whose nationality has occasioned no little controversy. Born in Florence of American parents,. receiving his artistic training in Paris, residing since in. England, though with much travelling through Europe and only two or three trips to the land of his allegiance, he may still be held an American, if de-scent counts for anything. His paintings have been shown wherever pictures are to be seen and he has received for them all honors that a painter can receive.

Before the freedom and certainty of Sargent's art criticism stands abashed. His portraits have a wonderful effect of vitality, and a purity and brilliancy of color which have never been surpassed; but most noteworthy of all, he achieves the supreme triumph of the portrait painter by comprehending and displaying character. He shows the very soul of his sitter, without malice but also without mercy. Only towards children does he show tenderness, and then he paints with a wonderful and varied charm. Not only of people but of places does he give the character---a room takes on personality; silks, velvets, furniture, bric-à-brac are all eloquent. On the whole, his qualities are such that he may rightly be considered the greatest portrait painter since Reynolds and Gainsborough. The portrait of Edwin Booth, at the beginning of the chapter dealing with the stage, is an excellent specimen of his work.

Sargent's portraits have placed him among the masters of all time, but perhaps he is most widely known by his remarkable decorations in the Boston Public Library, which in the original and in photo-graphic reproductions, have given the keenest delight to thousands and thousands of persons. It is impossible to give any detailed description here of these masterpieces of decorative art, so perfect technically that they might almost serve as a canon to decorative painters.

American painting may be said to have reached its culmination in Sargent, yet there are two other painters, who, if they fall below him in sheer genius, possess a charm and originality all their own. One of these is George de Forest Brush, who, somewhat after the fashion of Holbein, looks for a beauty of spirit independent of form or feature. He paints mothers and children not as young goddesses rollicking with cherubs, but as grave and tender women, who have sacrificed without regret something of their health and youthful freshness to the children they hold in their arms. In such groups there is a note of penetrating peace, a delicate distinction, which give Brush a position by himself.

The other is John W. Alexander, whose work is interesting as introducing a certain new element into art—a concentration of energy on the originality of the first general effect, including nothing that does not interest, and yet giving the effect of completeness. In Alexander's portraits there is nothing to distract the interest from the personality of the sitter, and he usually achieves a delineation of character direct and truthful.

Here this short review of the great personalities of American art must end. There are many other painters alive today whose work is full of promise, and who may yet achieve great places in the world's Pantheon. Indeed, it would almost seem that a renascence of American art is at hand. The country has emerged from the crudities of its first years, and from the mediocre conventionality of its middle period, without having lost the freshness and enthusiasm conducive to high achievement. Its face is toward the sunrise.

COPLEY', JOHN SINGLETON. Born at Boston, July 3, 1737; went to Europe, 1771, and spent the remainder of his life there, principally in London; associate of Royal Academy, 1771; full member, 1773; died at London, September 9, 1815.

WEST, BENJAMIN. Born at Springfield, Chester County, Pennsylvania, October 10, 1738; studied in Italy, 1760-63; settled in London, 1763; became court historical painter, 1772; president of the Royal Academy for many years; died at London, March 11, 1820.

PEALE, CHARLES WILLSON. Born at Chestertown, Maryland, April 16, 1741; with Copley at Boston, 1768—69; went to London, 1770; and studied under Benjamin West; returned to America, 1774; served in Revolution, 1776—77; opened "Peale's Museum," 1802 died at Philadelphia, February 22, 1827.

STUART, GILBERT. Born at Narragansett, Rhode Island, December 3, 1755; went to London and became pupil of West, 1775; returned to United States, 1792; died at Boston, July 27, 1828.

TRUMBULL, JOHN. Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, June 6, 1756; served in Revolution, attaining rank of colonel; studied under West in London, and returned to America, 1804; died at New York City, November 10, 1843.

SULLY, THOMAS. Born at Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England, June 8, 1783; brought to America at the age of nine; went to London, 1809, and studied under West; settled in Philadelphia in 1810, and spent the remainder of his life there, dying November 5, 1872.

ALLSTON, WASHINGTON. Born at Naccamaw, South Carolina, November 5, 1779; graduated at Harvard, 1800; studied at Royal Academy and at Rome, returning to America, 1809; died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 9, 1843.

VANDERLYN, JOHN. Born at Kingston, New York, October 15, 1775; studied art abroad, 1796—1801; and spent subsequent years in Europe, returning to America in 1815; died at Kingston, September 24, 1852.

PEALE, REMBRANDT. Born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, February 22, 1778; went to London and studied under West, 1801—03; died at Philadelphia, October 3, 1860.

HARDING, CHESTER. Born at Conway, Massachusetts, September 1, 1792; studied in London, 1823—26; died at Boston, April 1, 1866.

ALEXANDER, FRANCIS. Born in Connecticut, 1800 went to Europe in 1831, finally taking up his residence in Florence, where he died.

NEAGLE, JOHN. Born at Boston, November 4, 1796; died at Philadelphia, September 17, 1865.

INMAN, HENRY. Born at Utica, New York, October 20, 1801; served seven years' apprenticeship with John Wesley Jarvis; died at New York City, January 17, 1846.

DURAND, ASHER BROWN. Born at Jefferson, New Jersey, August 21, 1796; apprenticed to Peter Maverick, an engraver, 1812; president of National Academy of Design, 1845-61; died at South Orange,, New Jersey, September 17, 1886.

COLE, THOMAS. Born at Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, England, February 1, 1801; came to America, 1819; settled in New York, 1825; died at Catskill, New York, February 11, 1848.

CHURCH, FREDERIC EDWIN. Born at Hartford, Connecticut, May 4, 1826; pupil of Thomas Cole; National Academician, 1849; died at New York City, April 7, 1900.

BIERSTADT, ALBERT. Born at Düsseldorf, Germany, January 7, 1830; brought to America, 1831; early developed a taste for art, and studied at Düsseldorf, 1853—57; returned to America and remained here, except for brief visits to Europe; died at New York City, February 18, 1902.

MORAN, THOMAS. Born at Bolton, England, January 12, 1837; came to America, 1844; National Academician, 1884; still living in New York City.

KENSETT, JOHN FREDERICK. Born at Chester, Connecticut, March 22, 1818; in Europe, 1840- 44; National Academician, 1849;. died at New York City, December 16, 1872.

INNESS, GEORGE. Born at Newburgh, New York, May 1, 1825; National Academician, 1868; died at Bridge of Allan, Scotland, August 3, 1894.

WYANT, ALEXANDER H. Born at Port Washington, Ohio, January 11, 1836; studied in Germany and settled in New York, 1864; suffered paralytic stroke, 1877, and afterwards painted with left hand ; died at New York City, November 29, 1892.

MARTIN, HOMER DODGE. Born at Albany, New York, October 28, 1836; opened New York studio, 1862; National Academician, 1875; died at St. Paul, Minnesota, February 12, 1897.

VEDDER, ELIHU. Born at New York City, February 26, 1836; in Paris and Italy, 1856–61; and, after a year or two in America, returned to Italy, where he has since resided; National Academician, 1865.

LA FARGE, JOHN. Born at New York City, March 31, 1835; studied under Couture and Hunt; National Academician, 1869; president Society of American Artists and Society of Mural Painters.

HUNT, WILLIAM MORRIS. Born at Brattleboro, Vermont, March 31, 1824; studied under Couture and Millet, 1846–55; opened Boston studio, 1856; died at Appledore, Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire, September 8, 1879.

WHISTLER, JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL. Born at Lowell, Massachusetts, 1834; entered West Point Academy, 1851, but soon left; settled in Paris, 1856, and studied art two years, and then settled in London, where the remainder of his life was passed; died there, July 17, 1903.

HOMER, WINSLOW. Born at Boston, February 24, 1836; accompanied Army of Potomac in its campaigns, 1861–62; National Academician, 1865.

TRYON, DWIGHT WILLIAM. Born at Hartford, Connecticut, August 13, 1849; National Academician, 1891.

MILLET, FRANCIS DAVIS. Born at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, November 3, 1846; drummer 60th Massachusetts Volunteers, 1864; graduated at Harvard, 1869; studied at Antwerp, 1871—72; correspondent Russo-Turkish war, 1877—78; director of decorations World's Columbian Exposition, 1892—93.

ABBEY, EDWIN AUSTIN. Born at Philadelphia, April 1, 1852; educated at Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts; went to England, 1878, and has since made that his home.

SARGENT, JOHN SINGER. Born at Florence, Italy, <> 1856; studied under Carolus Duran; has made England his home ; Royal Academician, 1891; National Academician, 1897.

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