Modern Painting - Painting In France
( Originally Published 1908 )
IT is not the aim of this book carefully to assay the art of various countries during the second half of the last century. It is written primarily for English readers, and emphasis is laid upon English, or, to use the more comprehensive word so much insisted upon nowadays, British art. Were this not so, the Pre-Raphaelite movement should not have had so much attention as I have given to it. It has had this attention because our own art must here be our chief concern, and because the movement has had a potent influence upon that art during the last fifty years. It has not been by the work of those alone who have been closely identified with the movement that our art has been saved from the tyranny of tradition and made free of nature and life. Nor has it been maintained here that the pioneers of the movement were wholly right in what they did and what they left undone, what they praised and what they blamed. There were painters who held on their way uninfluenced by the movement; there were others who took from it what seemed to them good and eschewed what seemed to them evil. In their work also tradition was modified and art advanced. They have formed the large majority of our painters, and an account of what some of the principal ones among them have done has yet to be given, and coordinated with the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, before we shall have got even a summary of the achievement of our painters during the half-century. Other modern tendencies in art began to make themselves felt, and increasingly so as the century drew to its close. The growing influence of French art upon our own has led, as we have already seen, to strong protestations in favour of a narrow nationalism in art, regardless of the mischief that results from breeding in in any department of life.
The Pre-Raphaelite movement, as we have seen, owed nothing in its inception to the contemporary art of other countries. With Holman Hunt it was a revulsion from the conventions and triviality of the art of his own country; Madox Brown disliked contemporary French art, and M. de la Sizeranne thinks he decided upon his methods almost in a spirit of defiance. He was greatly influenced by the old Italian masters, particularly those of the fifteenth century ; so also, at a later date, as we have seen, was Burne-Jones ; and doubtless the romantic side of the movement owed much to Rossetti's Italian blood he never, we may note, actually went to Italy. From contemporary art the Pre-Raphaelites learned little or nothing. It was not so with the Impressionist movement in France. The Barbizon school, which, by its close study of nature, made Impressionism possible, owed no small debt to English landscape painting; and, again, in 1870, Monet and Pissarro, we recollect, were confirmed in their method of interpreting nature, both by English landscape and by English art. Turner had endeavoured to render the most subtle and fleeting atmospheric effects. Take Rain, Steam and Speed, the picture of which a reproduction appears opposite an earlier page. As the title suggests, the artist has not concerned himself primarily with the stable elements in the landscape ; they are but a means to an end ; they are sacrificed, almost blotted out by the rain which, even in England, is but transitory, More fleeting still is the steam, first in-visible, then, in its moment of change visible, soon invisible again. Then there are dimly seen through the rain-laden air, fugitive, also, themselves, not so much the train and the hare as the rush of the train over the viaduct, and the swift flight of the hare which is seeking to escape from the train. It was such work as this that arrested the attention of the two French painters and showed them the way along which they were to travel even further than Turner had gone.
So English art influenced French art. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, French art fully returned the service rendered. English and Scotch students in large numbers went, as they still go, to Paris. The effects are visible only too visible some will say in all our exhibitions, even in that stronghold of convention, the Royal Academy. And for this reason it is desirable that before we complete our study of English painting we should follow the general course of painting in France during the half-century we are surveying.
The Impressionist movement in France, like the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England, was but one phase of the growth of the whole art of the nation. It was, however, so important as to justify our having taken it apart along with the work of some of the painters who were most closely associated with it, if not participators in it. By the mid-century art had won for itself the right to find its subject-matter in modern life. In their various ways, Delacroix, Courbet, and the Barbizon landscape painters had freed art from the oppression of classicism, Painters were now free to take their subjects from modern life, as well as to interpret history, legend, and myth. We have seen that one marked difference between the Impressionists and our own Pre-Raphaelites was that, whereas the latter went chiefly to books, the former went to life for their subjects, and this actuality pervades the work of many more French painters than the Impressionists and their close allies.
In completing our survey of French painting we will first take account of its portrayal of contemporary life; and to begin with, we will take the work of the painters who, Iike Millet and Courbet before them, were attracted by the life of the country rather than by that of the town. The former life is the basic one. The country can do without the town, but not the town without the country. Life in the country, also, comes close to nature, which indeed is all around it ; and art has a noble, if not its noblest sphere, when it deals with nature and the elemental facts of human life.
We begin, therefore, with the life of the fields which, under the hand of Millet, became an epic, and almost a tragic one. By Jules Breton, who was some thirteen years his junior, it was treated more as an idyll, though he did not depart so far from the hard facts as did George Mason and Frederick Walker and this country. His reapers and gleaners are strongly-built women easily capable of the work they have to do, hard though it be. He takes an optimistic view of the life of the peasant. We can see the influence of Millet's peasants in the miners and iron-workers of Meunier. If the Belgian sculptor had learned from Jules Breton instead of from Millet, the King of the Belgians would never have feared that his works might powerfully reinforce the socialist propaganda.
A generation later than Jules Breton came Bastien-Lepage, born at Damvillers, in Lorraine, in 1848. As a boy he lived in the country. School-days over, he went to Paris, and, engaged part of the day in post office work, he spent the rest of his time painting under Cabanel. In after years he sharply criticised the methods in vogue in his student days, in particular the imitation of classical art. He set himself, when, after the war of 1.870, he returned to Damvillers, to paint the people and things around him ; he threw off the classical yoke, and became and remained through the whole of his short life he died in 1884, when only just over thirty-six years of age an uncompromising realist. It has been suggested that, had he lived, he might have softened the vigour of his realism, escaped from a narrow literalism into a broader treatment of his subjects. This was not to be ; and we have to accept him or as do some, reject him as an uncompromising recorder of facts.
If he did not quite know the peasant's life from within, as did Millet, he was closely familiar with it, and his rustics will carry conviction to those who have come into close con-tact with the toilers in the fields. The man and woman in his Hay Harvest recall the Mat and Dolly of the chapters that Richard Jefferies called " The Field Play." The beggar, whom the child watches as he turns away from the door, while he puts in his wallet the food that has been given to him, does not differ in essentials from tramps and beggars we have known ; and many a village in other lands has its aged Père Jacques, though not everywhere will he go with his grandchild gathering firewood among the trees. Lepage's village lovers, his haymaker, his girl with a cow, are all authentic renderings of an unlettered, hardworking peasantry. Their surroundings also, field, orchard, garden, and simple homestead, in which industry seems hardly to get the better of the large untidiness of nature, are recorded with a fidelity that the landscape of our Pre-Raphaelites, with all its minute elaboration of detail, cannot equal. Mr. Holman Hunt's lovers, in The Hireling Shepherd, cannot be accepted as unquestioningly as the couple who, in the picture of Bastien-Lepage, have in their bashful awkwardness a more serious barrier between them than the rickety fence ; and all the minute elaboration of detail in the landscape in the former picture does not bring us as near to nature as the French painter's more suggestive rendering.
In such pictures as The Annunciation and Joan of Arc he clothed old stories in modern dress, believing that, thereby, the spirit of them was more fully expressed. Here, in one particular, at least, he came very near to what has been both alleged and denied to be a tenet of the Pre-Raphaelites : the painting of an exact portrait of the living person who most nearly realised the artist's conception of a character taken from history or literature. As a portrait painter he found his way to the character of his sitters, seeming almost to tell the story of their life. The friendship between him and his Russian pupil, Marie Baskirtscheff, and their death within a month of each other, from the same disease, consumption, form one of the most pathetic stories in the annals of art.
Léon L'Hermitte belongs to the same generation as Bastien-Lepage, and, like him, was born in the country, His art has been chiefly devoted to the life of the peasantry. He sets them before us in sober colour and clear light ; a strong, fairly prosperous, well-clothed, contented people they seem to be. There is no pervading note of sadness as with Millet, no idealism as with Jules Breton, little that is pathetic as with Bastien-Lepage. These people work hard, but pay-day comes round, and their religion brings poetry into their lives. Church, churchyard-wall, houses, farm buildings, are all in good repair ; the painter by no means regards the peasant's lot as an undesirable one. These accounts may we put it ? of the life of the peasant vary according to the temperament of the artist, according also to actual variety in conditions of life. Not any one of them is exclusively to be trusted.
Somewhat younger than the men just mentioned, Dagnan-Bouveret has also given a quite cheery version of village life as the most important part of his life-work. He likes to dwell upon the times when toil in the fields or the woodland is suspended, so that the higher elements in human nature may be called into play. Women receiving the consecrated bread in church, a group of women, Bretonnes au Pardon, seated on the grass, while one of their number reads from a book of devotion, and two men stand by listening reverently, while above other groups in the distance the church spire rises : such are the subjects of two of his pictures. In another we see a number of woodmen in the forest. They also are resting from their toil, and are listening entranced to a youth playing upon his violin. They are robust, he is slight and pale one of their number who cannot work as they can, but who is capable of doing other things which they cannot, and in return for which, as their faces show, they will gladly let him share the fruit of their labour, for man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. This picture vividly realises the right relation of the specially gifted to those who in no particular rise above the general level. Not to live a life as widely different as may be from the many, but to be one of them, cultivating the special gift for the love of it, not for gain, and gladly using it so that others to whom it is denied may yet enjoy the beauty it creates in a word, not to be ministered unto but to minister such is the artist's true place, as it is the true place of each among his fellows. We often lose sight of this relation in the complex artificialities of life. Here we see it in its simplicity and elemental strength.
Charles Cottet, another painter of the life of simple folk, will serve to bring this phase of art quite to the present time. He has painted in quiet, even sombre tones, the people of Brittany. He takes us among such people and such scenes as we read of in Pierre Loti's Pêcheur d'Islande. Let us look, for example, at his triple picture in the Luxembourg. In the central panel the fishers are having a last meal with their friends before they put out to sea. It is not only the dim light of the lamp that makes the scene a solemn one, or the night visible through the open window. The event is in itself solemn, a veritable sacrament ; a communion, it may be a last communion in this world. These men and women may never again break bread together on this side of the grave. The hour of parting must come has come, if we turn to right and left of the central picture. To the right we see the fishermen out in their boat; they have the air of those in whom the sadness of the farewell has not yet been dispersed by the need for action and the thought of return. To the left, the women, seated upon a cliff, are sad also, and, as their attitudes seem to say, murmur a prayer; for they watch the boat as it passes away into the darkness, and soon the last glimmer of its light will be gone. In all this there is nothing sensational. It is a plain record of an everyday event; but of an event, the going down to the sea in ships, that has ever been felt to be impressive ; and the painter has shown it to have epic dignity. He has also shown his sense of the sacredness that the love which centres upon even the humblest home imparts to human life. This threefold picture, thus rendering homage to love, is worthy to be an altar-piece.
Such are some of the chief realistic painters who have variously followed the lead given by Courbet and Millet, in sympathetically studying the life of the peasantry and the fisher-folk. The name of Butin may be mentioned as another of those who have found by and on the sea subjects for their art. There is no need, however, to add name to name. It is enough to see that it has become possible to go out into the country and to the fishing hamlet, and paint what is there in all essentials as it is. To some painters the interest will be almost purely pictorial ; light, colour, and form will be their chief, perhaps their sole concern. Others will add to these interests, will perhaps make them subserve, the intimate human interest. However this may be, and there is room for both renderings, it has been discovered and fully shown that there is truer poetry in the mere facts of daily life than in all the pastorals ever painted.
From the realists who have studied the life of the country and the sea, men born, for the most part, amid the scenes and people they have painted, and remaining deeply attached to them, we pass to those who have interpreted the life of the town. Alfred Roll, a Parisian by birth, has combined both interests, the town-workman, at his work or on strike, and in angry mood, alternates with milkmaids and cattle in the fields, and idyllic scenes in which nymphs play their part. Jean Francois Raffaëlli, also a Parisian by birth, has made the city and the district just outside the fortifications his special study. He comes very close to the Impressionists, in fact, he exhibited with them ; and, under their influence, while putting in the forefront of his endeavour the realisation of various types of human character—earactérisme is a word he has used to define his aim he has also sufficiently attended to play of light, and realised the all-pervading atmosphere, so as to give his pictures something of the illusion of reality. In pure landscapes he shows himself to be almost one of the school.
But subject-pictures have been the staple of his work; and here, while Manet and Degas painted the Paris of the boulevard, the theatre and the music-hall, he was fascinated by the debatable ground that skirts the city. The spreading of the hideous town, as William Morris describes one feature of the growth of our civilisation, awakens emotions which the artist can put to use. In the vacant space left outside the walls of Paris, neither town nor country prevails; a halt has been called to the spread of the town, yet the country has been destroyed. Such a district as this has its own peculiar type of inhabitant and passer by. Needless to say, the rich do not frequent it, nor do the rank and file of the artisan class ; but we find there those whom we may call the camp-followers of the city, who keep body and soul together by activities that can hardly be dignified with the name of work. This pitiful, waste land, and the pitiful, waste lives that are on and about it, have found Raffaëlli the subject of many a picture in which both the scenes and the people in it seem to make a mute appeal to us from distances that our sympathy, but not our help, can reach. Raffaëlli does not moralise; he does not preach to us; he merely sets the facts before us. The facts speak, however, as do many other pathetic and tragic facts of life. Whether he will or not, the painter, if he show human life as it is, inevitably is in so doing a teacher.
Raffaëlli has gone within the city and painted life there also, the life chiefly of the workers and the very poor. That which Madox Brown crowded into one picture, to the danger both of his art and of the credibility of his facts, Raffaëlli has set forth in many pictures and drawings, which separately are convincingly true, and which, collectively, assembling, yet not bringing into impossibly close conjunction, workers and idlers of many kinds, help in that imaginative realisation of life as it is, which is so much needed to take away the reproach that one-half the world does not know how the other half lives.
In the Luxembourg, in the Caillebotte room, containing the Impressionist pictures, Raffaëlli is represented by a large canvas showing a politician addressing a public meeting. He stands on a platform. Some - of his chief supporters are with him. Behind him rises tier above tier of auditors ; in front, a few men, immediately below the platform, suggest a still larger audience that he faces. We cannot, perhaps, call this picture beautiful, but it is impressive. Clearly the speaker holds his audience. He is seeking so to direct their thoughts and stir their emotions that they will devote themselves to the furtherance of purposes which probably affect the workmen of the city and the vagrants of the banlieue. Not beautiful, the picture, perhaps, but the speaker and his audience are set before us with almost the illusion of life. Subtle gradations of tone put them at the right distance from each other and surround them with air ; and sombre as is the general effect a meeting composed of black-coated men is never a brilliant spectacle the painter has not forgotten the claims of colour; he has used dull red about the platform and in the ties of some of the audience, to relieve what would otherwise be a monotony of black coats and sallow faces.
James Tissot, after finding subjects in the picturesqueness of the early Renaissance, took the fashionable world for his subject. He lived and painted much in England. In later years he turned with enthusiasm to the life of Christ. He is represented in the Luxembourg by four pictures, which form a series illustrating the parable of the Prodigal Son. They are commonplace in colour, packed tight with detail, and quite Hogarthian in their treatment of the subject. The parable receives not only a modern, but an English setting. The drama begins in a seaport inn, where the father is giving the son good advice before he goes into a far country. Other members of the family are present, including the elder brother, who looks moodily out of the window. In the second picture the prodigal has reached the far country, and is in a dimly lighted room where Japanese girls are dancing. In the third picture we are at an English seaport again, and the prodigal, almost in rags, kneels on the landing stage, clasping his father's knees. He has worked his passage home, the last part of it in a cattle-boat. Again the elder brother is present, looking on indifferently. In the fourth and last picture the fatted calf is being killed in thoroughly English fashion. The family is having an al fresco meal somewhere up the river. The elder brother has been rowing. He comes up the steps from the river, where are his boating companions, with a sweater tied round his neck. He is also just filling his pipe. His father invites him to join in the merry-making. His response seems doubtful. At the moment he is scowling at the returned prodigal. And at this point, as also in the parable itself, the story ends. Looking at these pictures in the Luxembourg Gallery, we could more easily think our-selves in the National Gallery of British Art, were it not that the English people and English scenes have the air of being seen from the outside.
Giuseppe de Nittis, an Italian who made Paris his home, was a close associate of the Impressionists, joining with them in their separate exhibitions. It was when painting with him that Manet first made trial of plein air methods. He studiously rendered the varying effects of atmosphere, never forgetting that we do not live in an exhausted receiver. He found his subjects in the streets, the quays, the squares, the gardens of Paris, and at the race-course outside the city. The scene itself, and the people in it, divide the interest. In this his pictures resemble the earlier ones of Degas, and some of those of Manet and Renoir. He visited England, and painted London as he had painted Paris. Like Monet and Pissarro before him, he revelled in the atmospheric effects produced by broken gleams of sun-shine, and by mist and fog.
Paul Albert Besnard and Eugène Carrière, both born in 1849, have, each in his own way, carried forward the rendering of light and atmosphere which the Impressionists made the chief end of their art. Besnard, who gained the Prix de Rome, has abandoned academic work to produce pictures remarkable for subtle effects of light and for brilliant colour. Nothing is too daring for him to essay. His Portrait d'Artiste in the Luxembourg, showing an engraver at work in his studio under the semi-transparent screen, is not only a fine character-study, but is a subtle study of the play of cold grey light. The prevailing colour is blue-grey, with the brown of the copper-plate upon which the engraver is working, and of a vase, for contrast. Also in the Luxembourg are his Entre deux Rayons and Femme qui se chauffe, each a brilliant study of the play of light upon flesh. In the former picture a woman is between the window and the fire, and there is a mere drift of light and colour orange, deep red, and pink against purple-blue. In the latter picture, where a nude woman is seated on the ground before the fire, the flesh tints pass from blue through white and pale pink to full pink and gleaming gold. In the Luxembourg, also, is a landscape by him, Port d'Alger au Crépuscule, and here blue, green, purple, and gold are transformed into vibrating light. Besides other pictures, in which, similarly, Besnard has played harmonies of light and colour on flesh and costume and landscape, he has taken part in the decoration of the Hôtel de Ville, and there the decorative quality of his art, and his capacity for working on a large scale, are obvious.
The aim of Carrière, who died in 1896 at the early age of forty-seven, was markedly different from that of Besnard. Subtlety, not brilliancy of light attracted him. He was pre-eminently a painter of children and their mothers. His pictures are wholly simple and natural ; they are lyrics in praise of domestic love. He is an Impressionist in the sense that his figures are swathed in atmosphere, so as to give the illusion of reality. This effect might be taken to be the only aim of his art by one who only looked casually at his pictures. But the look must be very casual that does not discover the sympathetic rendering of character. Again, although, in order to concentrate the interest upon the facial expression as well as to give the sense of reality, all detail is merely suggested, there is no lack of draughtsmanship. Here is no covering of incompetency by fine names and theories, which is Mr. Holman Hunt's summary of Impressionism. The drawing is masterly both in expressiveness and in rhythm. In the picture, Intimité, in the Moreau collection at the Louvre, the group of a mother and two children is finely composed. In every particular the drawing is admirable. One hand of the mother, and one of a girl perhaps fifteen years old, are seen ; and the contrast between the firmness of the former, the result of years of labour, and the softness of the latter, is one of the many truly human touches in the picture. The contrast goes even further than this. It is perhaps in keeping with her mood that the girl's hand should be limp and expressionless. She is closing her eyes and yielding to the baby's kiss and embrace. Yet a girl's hand can hardly be as expressive as that of a woman ; and the mother's hand here is not only firm, but it shows the capability that comes with use. Her face has an air of tender solicitude for her children, and tells also of years of household care. Grey and black prevail in the picture, relieved by the brown of the hair, and the pale carmines of the children's faces. There are no definite lines anywhere ; but the more defined edge of the girl's sleeve, and of the wedding -ring on the woman's finger, give assurance of solidity ; the gold of the ring being invaluable also in the colour-scheme of the picture.
It was easy, of course, for those who first saw these misty-looking canvases to say that evidently the chimney had been smoking. This kind of thing goes along with the soapsuds and whitewash criticism which so angered Turner when his Storm at Sea was first exhibited. I must not go over old ground ; but probably not every critic has discovered how indistinctly we see everything but the one small object upon which our gaze is fixed. And, even though Carrière adopted a somewhat rhetorical device to give the illusion of reality, and to suggest the "breathing-sphere" in which we live; it not only was justified by its success in both these ways, but it brings all the figures in his pictures into what seems more than a physical relation with each other; and, on the purely aesthetic side, it gives occasion for subtle play of tones. It is interesting to find that Carrière expressed his indebtedness to Renner, Rodin, Degas, Monet, and Fantin. It is impossible not to go further back and think of Rembrandt and Velasquez. He is certainly of their lineage.
To refer in detail to others of his pictures would only be to vary in particulars what has been said of Intimité. He is well represented in the Luxembourg by La Famille and Maternité. The variety of expression in the five children in the former picture, according to both age and temperament, and the essential difference between the expression of all of them and that of the mother, are most sympathetically rendered. In the latter picture a mother, with a child asleep on her knee, leans forward, takes the face of an older child in her hand, and kisses him. There are the same concentration and intensity here as in the first-named picture ; and so we might go through the full list of his works. Our illustration does not show him in the same vein as the three pictures just mentioned; but it is a delightful child-study, and exquisitely painted. The youngster has found a pot of jam; he is 'using his fingers to transfer the jam to his mouth, and to his cheeks and almost certainly to his clothes. Conscience is by no means making a coward of him ; and his mother has not yet arrived upon the scene. He is supremely happy.
In the Théâtre de Belleville, Carrière successfully applied his method to a subject outside the domestic shpere. Of his Christ sur le Croix in the Luxembourg I hesitate to speak. It has seemed to me that he has been content with the mystery and the gloom, and missed the higher expressiveness that the subject requires. His portraits do not call upon him to leave ground where he is a master.
I said on an earlier page that when we came to such work as that of Miss Mary Cassatt, Degas' American pupil, we should see to what irreproachable uses his methods could be put. Carrière, we know, was influenced by Degas, and nothing could be further removed than his pictures from the kind of charge often preferred in this country against Impressionism, if not against French art as a whole. By perhaps the most important part of her training, and by years of residence and work, Miss Cassatt belongs rather to France than to her native country. She is an exponent of the Impressionist methods, and has worked a great deal in pastel, as well as in oil, water-colour, and colour-etching, delighting in pure and brilliant colour, and always surrounding with air the children and their mothers, whom, like Carrière, she takes for the subject of most of her pictures. Her women and children have the charm and grace of simple goodness, and we always seem to take them unawares, to have the chance of watching them for a moment, at the work or the play of home, or enjoying its affection. Realism has been accused, to its disadvantage as compared with idealism, of tending towards sensationalism. Of course it lends itself to sensationalism in ways that idealism does not. There is even an idealism that is incapable of either good or evil; that is mere emptiness. It is negative like asceticism. Such pictures as those of Carrière and Miss Cassatt go far to prove, what perhaps needs little proof, that the purest ideal is in the real, that the kingdom of heaven is not far off, is very near is within. Why are the ballet-dancers and the drink-soddened women of Degas so horrible ? Because they are not cloistered nuns or saints of the calendar ? No ; but because they are not like the children and the women in the pictures of the two painters just named, who, in the practice of their art, though not in their choice of subject, were influenced and helped by Degas.
Among the most interesting of the later Impressionists is Maxime Maufra, who has combined with art, conceived in the letter as well as in the spirit of that of Monet, some-thing of the older methods of design. He has given to the full the illusion of atmosphere that makes us forget the canvas, while so designing his picture as not to disappoint even those who look for the arrangements of form and colour which give pleasure when we are not able to forget canvas and frame. Thus, in an introduction to a catalogue of a recent exhibition of his works, M. Arsene Alexandre says of him : " Distinguished from the Impressionist group properly so called by regard for composition and by pictorial instinct, this fine painter, profoundly enamoured of nature, has remained faithful to the pursuit of light, of truth, and of intensity, which Impressionism has henceforth imposed upon all who paint outside as well the decorative as the academic formula." A landscape by Maufra is not open to the charge, often made against Impressionist works, of being a mere fragment of reality; it is as if nature had been surprised in the act of picture-making. No one unacquainted with his method would suspect, on seeing his pictures from the calculated distance, that there is not in them even an approximation to detail, that form is so summarily rendered as actually to be not merely generalised, but quite inaccurate when closely examined. Yet, when seen as intended, the pictures have both truth and beauty, and this in no small measure. To quote further what M. Alexandre says of Maufra : " He has been able, by his magnificent determination, to astonish our sight with scenes true, joyous, and enchanting, in which the pictorial matter is richer than ever, but is never indiscreet. He is equally removed from wearisomely careful manipulation and from that intolerable calculated clumsiness which conceit, or ignorance, or simply dry theory, seeks to establish as individuality." Clearly M. Alexandre is not blind to the vagaries of Impressionism.
Maufra was born at Nantes in 1861. His father was engaged in business, and sent his son to Liverpool to learn English and to act in the interests of his father's firm. He both attended to business and sketched in and near Liverpool, and having by speculation acquired a small capital, he betook himself to art. Mr. Wynford Dewhurst, in his book, Impressionist Painting, quotes Maufra as declaring to him his indebtedness to Turner and Constable, whom he studied while in England, and as saying that Monet and Pissarro were under a similar indebtedness to the same painters as had been Delacroix and Manet before them.
Henri le Sidaner, born on the confines of Normandy and Brittany in 1862, studied art first at the École des Beaux Arts at Dunkirk, and then at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, under Cabanel. He was much attracted by the work of Manet, and came somewhat later under the influence of other painters who were engaged with the problems of light and atmosphere, to which he also has addressed himself, solving them in the Impressionist manner and creating works of wonderfully subtle beauty. Two of his pictures, La Table and Le Dessert, are in the Luxembourg. The former is a night-scene in the open air. The cold light of the moon gleams on buildings in the background. In the foreground, under a tree, is a table, at which there has been an al fresco meal. The dessert is on the table, and a lamp is burning there, but the diners have gone away, and we who look at the scene are alone with the grey moonlight and the golden light of the lamp. These are the real subjects of the picture; and, as with Monet's poplars, haystacks, and cathedral fronts, the objects here buildings, table, chairs, and the dessert on the table--delightfully grouped though they be, do but give occasion for the varied play of light, which is so much exquisite visible music, in tones of delicate grey, gold, green, and brown. Le Dessert is an interior, where again a table is laid, but no one is present. The symphony of light is played in the same colours, only here the contrasts are stronger. Series of pictures of such cities as Bruges and Venice have had motives of light and colour similar to those of the Luxembourg pictures, and he has treated figure-subjects in the same manner. Burne-Jones's complaint against the Impressionists was that they got atmosphere, but nothing else; they did not get beauty. Whether or not it was because he was preoccupied with one kind of beauty alone that he said this of the first Impressionists, it certainly is the very reverse of true of such artists as Maufra and Le Sidaner.
Auguste Emanuel Pointelin, older than the two painters last mentioned, and Didier-Pouget, have loved and interpreted the subtle moods and beautiful effects of nature which are the gift of the light and the air in their many changes. Pointelin is akin to Corot; Didier-Pouget delights to go out among the hills, when the haze spreads a delicate, transparent veil over the land, softening every outline, and saturating the air above with beautifully tinted light.
D'Espagnat, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Guillaumin, and Van Gogh, a Dutchman who has made France his home, are others who have used Impressionist methods. Vuillard and others have evolved a form of decorative pictorial art, applied chiefly to interiors, which has much the effect of tapestry, dry colour being used and effects of light being subordinated to decorative arrangement and colour.
An extreme scientific theory and practice of Impressionism, known as pointillisme, carrying much further than Monet has done the laying on the canvas of dots of pure pigments calculated to produce from a given distance the same effect, only with greater brilliance, as would have been produced had the pigments first been mixed on the palette and then transferred to the canvas, was worked out by Seurat, and adopted by Signac, Anquetin, Van Ryssslberghe, and others. Camille Pissarro tried it for a time, and then abandoned it again. Experiment has succeeded experiment, and will continue to do so. Here we must not carry the story of Impressionism further than the point at which, as is being more and more generally admitted, it has made a most valuable contribution to the resources of art for the interpretation of nature and life.
We leave now the painters who have taken modern life, and the world as modern eyes see it, for their subject. They are not by any means all of them Impressionists ; though many of them who are not followers of Monet have none the less been not a little influenced by the Impressionist point of view. All these painters, whatever may have been their failings, have helped to bring art into closer touch with nature and life, which they have seen and interpreted for themselves, and not merely through the eyes of their predecessors.
Yet the older formulae of art, with the modifications that time inevitably brings, even to the most conservative quarters, have still been applied. If at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts the modern methods are so largely in evidence as to give to its exhibitions a distinctive character, at the old Salon there is a patchwork of old and new. At the Luxembourg, the galleries of which are wholly inadequate for their purpose, old and new methods jostle each other, except where the peace of common consent reigns in the Caillebotte room, and in the neighbouring room where are examples of the art of other countries that has been largely based on French Impression-ism. The older formulae have lived on because there are certain classes of subject which are not so readily treated according to plein air and kindred methods, as landscape and modern life and portraiture. They have also lived on upon their merits. After all, as has been said before, impression of reality is not everything, and there are beauties besides those of light, tone, and value. The end of art is not yet. Impressionism has seized upon and opened our eyes to truth and beauty hitherto unseen; but it is not therefore entitled to close our eyes to all other truth and beauty.
We might, after following the course of French painting down to Ingres and Delacroix, have considered first the work of those who, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, kept nearest to either the classical or the romantic principle. The alternative was to push on at once with the pioneers and then halt, and from the vantage gained take account of those who were slowly pursuing the beaten track.
The latter is the course that has been taken here, and we have now briefly to consider the work of those who have done little more than establish the victories already gained by art, leaving others to win for it new territories from nature and life.
In landscape painting the work of the Barbizon group lasted over into our period, and its methods have been adopted, with differences of course, by a succession of painters. The elder Daubigny, Chintreuil, and Desbrosses were among the older members of the group who have not yet been mentioned. Rosa Bonheur, younger by ten years than Troyon, and outliving him by over thirty years she died just before the century's close carried on with true sympathy his work of representing animals in landscape. Many others have followed who have, in the main, painted landscape and animals in the same manner that is to say, they have not, like the Impressionists, put vibrating light and colour in the first place or, even, almost alone but they have been interested in the character of hills and streams and trees and the living creatures amid them ; they have not overlooked elements of power and beauty in nature which the Impressionists, intent upon one gain for art, have been apt to miss ; and even with regard to the changing moods and effects of nature, the gift, as I have already put it, of the light and the air, these painters or some of them at least have not only not left them unexplored, but have given in some ways a fuller and deeper interpretation of them than the Impressionists have yet done; and only where that which the Impressionists have gained for us can be combined with what the older schools have retained for us shall we desire all our painters to break away from the limitations of those older schools.
One type of picture that has had much vogue in France, the military picture, need not detain us long. It is referred to here mainly on account of the work of one painter, Ernest Meissonier. Speaking in general terms, it may be said merely that this kind of picture has become more realistic in treatment. It had its classical period, when the modern soldier was approximated as closely as possible to the Greek or Roman soldier; then it passed through a romantic-heroic stage under Horace Vernet, Gros, Raffet, and others ; under such painters as Alphonse de Neuville, Edouard Détaille, and Aimé Morot it has approached such realism as perfected photography in colour might give, with the one advantage over the most perfect of possible cameras : the painter's freedom to compose.
Meissonier, born in 1815, belonged to the generation before that of the first Impressionists, though, living until 1891, his life outlasted that of Manet and others of the group. Meissonier painted pictures of even considerable size almost with the minuteness of miniature; and no change in the tendency of art around him availed to broaden his style. The laboriously painted detail of his pictures was too much even for Mr. Holman Hunt, who contrasts the small remuneration that Madox Brown obtained for his work in the Manchester Town Hall with "the extravagant glorification which greeted Meissonier's microscopic representation of two dull old gentlemen playing chess, or the picture representing nothing more ennobling than a sign-painter painting his board, or again, a draughts-man sketching in a barrack yard with a crowd of dull onlookers, or, as the highest flight of military. interest, Napoleon on his white horse." Mr. Holman Hunt was angry that such pictures as these were bought by English people at high prices, to the neglect of what he considered more meritorious English work; and perhaps this makes him something less than just to Meissonier, whom, let us remember, Ruskin praised ; indeed, he was one of the purchasers of Meissonier's work. Mr. Holman Hunt also contrasts the mechanical painting of a brick wall by Meissonier, with the much more subtle and really beautiful treatment of such material by Millais ; and in this he is certainly right. In fact, there is in Meissonier's work much of that neglect of texture to which Mr. Holman Hunt himself was given from the time of his first visit to the Holy Land.
That there was nothing particularly ennobling in Meissonier's pictures is no good reason for condemning him as an artist ; and it is not wrong to pay well for a well-painted picture without asking whether the possession and enjoyment of it will accomplish for us the same kind of good we expect from the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments. It is the mechanical precision and the metallic hardness of his works that forbid us to admire in them much beyond their mere skill and laboriousness which have been indulged, one might almost put it, at too great a cost. Manet's comment on. Meissonier's Cuirassiers was that everything was steel except the cuirasses!
Pope, in the " Essay on Man," puts the questions :
Why has not Man a microscopic eye ?
For the purposes of art we may vary the second question, and ask what is the use of inspecting the parts if we fail to comprehend the whole. It is interesting to recollect that Madox Brown applied the adjective "microscopic" to Mr. Holman Hunt's work, just as the latter applied it to that of Meissonier. The French painter can be credited with more satisfactory composition than the English one ; but the complaint holds good against his work that he has sacrificed the whole to laborious insistence on even the smallest parts; and this he continued to do while, around him, breadth of treatment was growing apace in acceptance.
The example of Delacroix, and of those who, after him, took art further along the road upon which he had set out with it, did not prevent others, such as Charles Gleyre, from still walking in the way of Classicism. The classical style was almost inevitably modified; but it was only modified, not abandoned, by a succession of painters.
Alexandre Cabanel, born in 1823, and William Adolphe Bouguereau, born in 1825, carry over into the second half of the nineteenth century that which we might regard as more properly belonging to the preceding fifty years. So do Charles Henner and Jules Lefèbvre, who came a few years later, though Henner advanced in the painting of flesh softened by the atmosphere and the play of light. We have seen that he was one of the artists to whom so modern a painter as Eugène Carrière expressed his indebtedness. Paul Baudry, who belonged to the same generation, also painted in a modified classical style, but infused more life into it than the painters who have just been mentioned. Henner, Lefèbvre, and Baudry were just about the same age as Manet, and all of them survived him ; yet he became a modern of the moderns while they only to a minor extent broke with the past. Baudry won the Prix de Rome, and spent five years in Italy, chiefly at the Villa Medici. He copied Michael Angelo, Titian, Correggio, and others, and his art was founded on that of the Italians of the fifteenth century. Decorative painting on the great scale was that which he desired, and his wish was gratified by his receiving the commission for the paintings in the Opera House at Paris. Both in this work and. in his easel pictures, mythology and allegory based on the old myths are put to great use. The nude is, of course, paramount; and Baudry gave it a distinct modern Parisian note. His nymphs are elegant, highly artificial Parisian women. His Truth, seated at the edge of a well, is a coquette. It is as if one who went to Greek art for inspiration should be unmoved by the idealism of Pheidias, and by all that was nearest to it in the later sculpture the Venus of Milo, for example and should seize upon all that was most seductively sensuous in the art of an age so conditioned as to lead realism along doubtful paths. The art of the later Renaissance was to the earlier art what Greek art, after the close of the fifth century B.c., was to that of Pheidias ; and Baudry did but interpret in Parisian fashion the lighter, it might be said the baser, side of the art of the Renaissance. Along with Baudry should be named Elie Delaunay, who aided him in the work at the Opera House. Delaunay was a child of the Renaissance, but he, like Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites, found guidance rather in its earlier stages ; and his art, if less brilliant than. that of Baudry, appeals to higher emotions.
Hippolyte Flandrin was a pupil of Ingres who won the Prix de Rome, studied in Italy, placed draughtsmanship before colour, and became a painter of religious subjects, in his treatment of which he was little more than an echo of the earlier Italian masters. Ary Scheffer, though of Dutch and German extraction, was so much influenced in his art by the French painters that he is generally accounted as one of them. He was a Classicist in that his draughtsmanship was superior to his colour. He was more akin to the Romantic school in his choice of pathetic or melancholy subjects such as the Marguerite of "Faust " and Paolo and Francesca da Rimini.
In such ways as these did the classical influence persist during the second half of the century.
Here, perhaps, is the best place to speak of two painters whose names stand high on the roll of modern artists Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes. They did not merely carry on the work of either the Classical or the Romantic school. They defy any exact classification. Moreau is allied to the Romanticists, Chavannes to the Classicists ; but in the case of each of them a new spirit seems to have come and to have moulded the form of his art into something that also is new. Before their works we find ourselves thinking, not so much how they have pictured external things, as how they have used such things as symbols with which to give utterance to their own thought and emotion. With them, as with the Impressionists, the subjective element strongly asserts itself. We may say that they set problem-pictures before us, which also Watts, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones and men of lesser name have done in our own country.
In a house in the Rue Rochefoucauld in Paris there is one of the most remarkable collections of pictures, drawings, and studies to be seen anywhere. The word " collection " is not the right one ; these works have not been brought together, they are in the place where they were produced ; they are the greater part of the life-work of Moreau, who, born in 1826, lived in this house, which came to him from his father, until his death in 1898. He was under no necessity to sell his pictures ; he disliked exhibitions. For the most part he kept his work around him, working first at one canvas and then at another, as the subject inspired him ; and now the house is maintained as a museum, and paintings in all stages of progress are arranged in the two studios, one above the other, in which the painter used to work. It should also be mentioned that several of his pictures are in the Luxembourg.
His master in art, Théodore Chassériau, had taught him to admire the earlier Italian masters ; and before this he had copied the mural paintings at Pompeii. He was attracted by the richly decorative art of India, and he delighted in beautiful art-work of all kinds. Though his home was in the heart of Paris, he lived apart from the life of his own day. Released from the necessity of earning a livelihood, he could choose, we may say, in what age or ages he would live. We have said of Rossetti that he existed in the pre-sent but lived in the past, and this was true also of Moreau. He fed his emotions and his imagination on the myths and legends of the days long gone by, and then he set them forth in pictures that have no close parallel in the work of any other single painter. He has often been compared to Burne-Jones, but we must at least add Rossetti to eke out the comparison. We do not feel satisfied even then. We need something also that is akin to the spirit of William Blake, an intense imaginative realisation of life other than that which is revealed by the senses. We may liken him to a composite portrait of these three artists.
The world he has conjured up is not an actual one, yet he has so realised it that it becomes credible, almost even inevitable. It has burning suns and glittering stars, it has gloomy forests and brilliantly hued flowers. The animals that inhabit it are such as we read of in ancient lore, and the people in it are human, yet strangely different from the humanity we know, and dwell in halls of fabulous magnificence. It is as if the painter had distilled beautifully shaped and coloured essences of familiar things. To say that he believed in this world of his imagination would be inadequate. He lived in it lived in the world within the world. This was what he saw. If the inner world were not like this, it was because his vision was too dim to see the beauty of it in its full intensity.
In this imagined world are gods, goddesses, and heroes —Jupiter, Apollo, Hercules, Orpheus, Odysseus, Penelope, Europa, Leda, Galatea, and many another. Here also are Moses and David, Buddha and Christ. There is nothing here of the dry literalism that buries the spirit of the past under the letter of it. Yet how unfamiliar is the spirit that pervades these strange imaginings ! How the old-time stories and beliefs must have worked upon the brain and the emotions of the painter before he could thus re-tell them. The sumptuous aesthetic setting of them can hardly fail to be repellent if we come to them wholly unprepared. It is as if the myths and legends of the West, and those of the Old and New Testament, had been translated into the language of the Arabian Nights. They are, in fact, re-told here by a recluse, to whom they bring no call to action, but only delight and wonder at them, and for whom, nurtured as he was in art of exotic splendour, they inevitably clothe themselves in form and colour too rich and glowing, too fantastic, we may say, to have any correspondence with the way in which all but a very few of us can ever have imagined these things for themselves.
Comparison has often been made between the art of Moreau and the poetry of Baudelaire ; and we are familiar with the- use of the word " decadence " in reference to both of them. It is often used also of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and their followers. Are all these men morbid ; and, if so, are they more morbid than those whose activities have made the world hideous in the course of what one of the leading men in commercial Lancashire has recently called the soul-strangling pursuit of wealth ? Do the mad who boast them-selves sane drive the sane ones mad? However this may be, Moreau created a world of strange, disquieting beauty, one into the full significance of which it were too long and difficult to enter here.
No such trouble and perplexity as we may well feel before his works are caused when we turn to those of Puvis de Chavannes ; rather would they give rest and confidence to a perturbed spirit. Like Moreau, he turns away from the world we know because he has a vision of another one. Unlike Moreau, he does not see a world that is passionately agitated, groaning and travailing in pain, but one in which an infinite calm abides. We may liken the one to the surface of the ocean, now ruffled by the breeze, now lashed by the storm, and rarely wholly still ; and the other to the ever untroubled depths below. The difference between the worlds imagined by the two men is due, of course, to the difference of their temperaments. We need both visions ; we need to feel that the heart-beat of the universe, in alternate systole and diastole, will give us both work and rest; if we be assured of which, the paradox becomes true that work and rest are one.
The deep quietude that abides in the pictures of Chavannes caused it to be said of him in his early days he was born at Lyons in 1826 and was a pupil of Couture that he was infatuated with tranquillity. There is certainly an ascetic vein in both the spirit and the manner of his work. It is not surprising that he has been said to be nervously de-generate, not whole and strong enough to face life as it really is. I recollect, years ago, looking at his great picture in the Sorbonne, and feeling that the sacred grove, with the listless figures motionless or slowly moving in it, was not the most convincing symbol not only of the pursuit, but of the attainment of knowledge which, for us, at least only means the need for further pursuit. Yet, perhaps, were it not for the conviction that beneath the unrest of knowledge which so often seems but to enlarge the bounds of ignorance there is perfect knowledge, a veritable, tranquil sacred grove, that, in brief, the universe is rational, we should not have the heart to live. At least, surely, reason must go if it could not escape from the conclusion that it was faced by only colossal unreason. The weary student may well be soothed and strengthened by a vision of the calm on which his troubled quest of knowledge is securely based.
Chavannes became a decorative artist on the large scale. Perhaps no other painter of modern times has had such fine opportunities, and has made such splendid use of them. How our own Watts and Burne-Jones would have rejoiced to have his chances ! In some ways, undoubtedly, they could not have used them so well. There has been a long tradition in France of painting on the large scale. In England there has been no such tradition. It is not possible to think of such a fiasco having happened in France as the futile attempt of Rossetti and his companions to decorate with mural paintings the walls of the Union building at Oxford. When Chavannes appeared, and showed marked ability for mural painting, it was certain that, being a Frenchman, such work would be found for him to do. Watts, who could have done fine, if not as fine things, in the same kind, was reduced to asking the directors of the London and North-Western Railway Company to let him decorate, at his own expense, the waiting-hall at Euston Station; and, when this offer was refused, he had to content himself with but little more than the fragmentary record of his visions by means of easel-pictures. It was quite otherwise with Chavannes. He was commissioned to execute mural paintings for the museums of Amiens, Lyons, and Marseilles, for the Panthéon, the Sorbonne, and the Hôtel de Ville at Paris, for the hôtels de ville of several provincial towns, and, outside his own country, for the Library at Boston, U.S.A. It was for the American Church in Rome, we recollect, that Burne-Jones got his solitary commission for pictorial work on a large scale.
In work of this kind Chavannes bore in mind that his pictures had not an independent existence, that they were part of the decoration of a building. He aimed at no illusion of reality which would induce forgetfulness of the wall behind the picture. For this reason he avoided realistic colour, modelling, and light and shade, thus preserving an only slightly varied tone throughout the picture. Grey was the predominant colour, varied with sober blues, greens, reds, etc. Not only are the sentiment and action of his pictures tranquil, they are studiously quiet in their decorative effect ; the wall has been covered with delicately modulated colour, which takes away all sense of bareness without the picture seeming to clamour for attention to the exclusion of the rest of the building of which it is but an accessory. This can by no means be said of all the mural paintings which those of Chavannes have for companions. To take one glaring example : the paintings of Chavannes in the Panthéon at Paris have for their subject the legend of Ste. Geneviève, the patron saint of the city. They are quiet in tone, and differ in this respect from nearly every other picture in the place. But, on the wall beneath the eastern apse, there is a particularly garish painting by Edouard Détaille, representing a wild rush of horse-soldiers "vers la Gloire," Glory being personified by an actress astride a winged horse. Above this picture is a mosaic by Hébert, representing Christ revealing to the guardian angel of France the destinies of the country, while at one side is standing Ste. Geneviève, and at the other Joan of Arc. Détaille's picture, vulgar alike in realistic treatment and in sentiment, is a painful contrast, not only from the mosaic above it, but from the quiet beauty and refined feeling of the pictures of Chavannes; yet, presumably, according to some critics, the latter is morbid and the former healthy !
Whatever he paints, be it a dream of classical antiquity, medioeval painters at work in a monastery, allegories of the seasons of the year, of war and peace, of the Muses and the poets, Prometheus tortured for giving fire to mankind, or what else it may be, he seems to have materialised some-thing of the spirit that lives in all history, in all phenomena. The quietude, the delicate harmonies of tone and colour, seem to unite the spiritual and the material ; the painter's thought and emotion, his vision of the past, his longings for the future, his touch of the world within the world, seem to be are, we may say disclosed to us, not in the way of information only, but of emotional influence. One writer, refer-ring to a series of allegorical paintings by Chavannes, says : "It taps on my school satchel "; and he imagines a Japanese, an appreciator of the great works of the artists of his own country, but ignorant of the Greek and Latin classics, wondering what the figures in it mean, for he has not the special key to their meaning, and the figures have not the natural constraining power of plain truth and beauty. To this effect writes Max Nordau; but, alas ! exactly the same thing may be said about many Japanese pictures; they also are utterly incomprehensible without a special key, and have not plain truth and beauty. We need not go through the schools of art and tabulate what would have to be dismissed to the rubbish-heap were this kind of criticism applied to them all. It is enough to note merely that Chavannes painted, not for the Japanese, but for people with Western traditions and knowledge.
Applied to easel-pictures Chavannes' method is hardly adequate, though his picture The Poor Fisherman, thrust into rather than placed in a miscellaneous crowd of pictures in the Luxembourg, is not finally to be judged amid such incongruous surroundings. It may be taken to refer to the subject of it as an allegory of humanity, with difficulty winning a subsistence by land or by sea, yet toiling on in patience and in faith. The babe is asleep on the grass ; an older child gathers flowers ; the fisherman silently prays that he may get that which will feed them all. Another of his pictures, The Beheading of John the Baptist, shows clearly that, although in a moment the headsman will have severed the Baptist's head from his body, the victory lies with him, not with his murderers. The Reapers needs no comment.
The limitations of Chavannes' technique have often been urged against him. He was not a great master of the brush ; in aiming at simplicity he became rudimentary. This is what has been said of him. But the means he used were well adapted to the end he had in view. It is idle to compare him with Raphael or Rubens, and say that he did not paint as they painted and this has been done unless it be to point out that without having the technical skill and resource possessed by these painters Chavannes has produced works which are of great beauty within their limits, and which, also, touch the strings of new emotions and evoke strains that are silent when we are before the works of the masters with whom, in point of technique, he may not compare.
The art of Moreau was so emphatically the expression of an exceptional individuality that we hardly expect to see it repeated with only minor variations. That of Chavannes was simpler in its derivation, and departed less from customary methods and ideas, and his name comes to our lips when we see the work of other, younger painters. His influence is plainly seen in the mural paintings executed in the Panthéon and elsewhere, and in easel-pictures and portraits, by Ferdinand Humbert ; and Henri Martin, in paintings such as the large Sérénité in the Luxembourg, also shows himself to be a follower of Chavannes. Each of these painters, however, comes nearer to the Impressionists by rendering atmospheric vibration. This tendency is noticeable in the works of many painters whose subjects are of the Classical and the Romantic order. It may be an exaggeration to say, as did an enthusiast for the Monet school to me recently, that there is nothing left but Impressionism ; but certainly, as it has been said that in the paintings of Masaccio and his contemporaries men first began to move about in a world prepared for them, so it can be said that gods and goddesses, nymphs and heroes, now begin to move about in a world where the breathing of which their human form suggests the necessity seems to be possible. This is a characteristic of the art of that fine poet-painter Emile René Ménard, who has been called " the singer of the clouds, of the high heaven, of the tranquil sea, and of the silent mountain forests." This description alone would suggest to us that he was one for whom beyond all the many voices of nature there was one deep, still voice that most he loved to hear. That voice is best heard in silence, for it is not without, but within us, who are a part of nature or of whom nature is a part, for nature leaves us unsatisfied. It is nature thus writ large that Ménard paints, or sings the word fits better. His pictures are like solemn odes or chants. The spirit that informs them is the one that informs the landscapes of Watts, but the expression in those of Ménard is more subtle. His colour is simplified to a few clear, full, harmonious notes. The air, that which makes possible life in the world, and creates its beauty we are on old ground again vibrates in every scene, and the revealing light plays everywhere, at its fullest, or minished through dimness towards dark. Nature, in these pictured psalms seems to say to us, "Be still, and know that I am God." The cattle are there, nature raised to higher life than tree and flower. Man, higher still, is there. Homer tunes his lyre by the edge of the sea, and shepherd calls to shepherd to come and hear his song. The gods are there, they commune with men ; and the shepherd Paris gives the apple to the goddess of his choice, with the dire results of which the song of Homer told. The old stories cannot die. They arose out of life, and life has not changed so much that they are not still essentially true to it. These pictures, therefore, even though a Japanese would not know who Paris and Aphrodite were, do more in their story-telling than merely "tap on the school satchel." The story and the landscape are completely unified by art ; each not merely does no injury to, but explains and exalts the other.
In such pictures as these, Realism, and some measure, at least, of Impressionism, unite with a lofty Idealism. We have now for a brief while to observe Romanticism and Realism occupied with their own familiar tasks.
The right to paint as they wished, and not as they were bidden, which Delacroix and those who fought with him had won against Ingres and his fellow-classicists, was maintained, with but little advance on new ground, by a number of painters, some of whom lived until near the close of the century. Honoré Daumier, who was born in 1808 and died in 1879, powerfully aided Delacroix by caricatures which were really trenchant criticisms of the productions of the Classical school. It has already been said that he and the other draughtsmen of his time did much by their work in that kind to enable painting also to get into touch with contemporary life. He was painter as well as draughtsman, and, as is shown by the picture here reproduced, he broke away from the academic conventions, basing his art upon colour and a broad and vigorous treatment of his subjects. This was, indeed, what the Romanticists achieved. They made good the painter's right to emphasise colour rather than drawing, to treat his subjects according to his own conception of them instead of according to externally imposed conventions, and, further, to choose his subjects where he would.
Delaroche, who has already been mentioned as taking several subjects from English history, barely lived past the half-century; Decamps, who went to the "gorgeous East" for his subjects, died in 1860; and Marilhat, who painted largely in Egypt, died, though younger than Decamps, before our period begins. These men sought to render the brilliant, burning light and colour of the East. Fromentin, who, born in 1820 and dying in 1886, lived the greater number of the working years of his life in the second half of the century, gave a romantic, brilliantly coloured, but unconvincing picture of Arab life. Gustave Guillaumet, who also made the East his province, was born in 1840 and died in 1887. He belongs, therefore, as to his work, wholly to our time. He had a profounder insight into the difference between East and West than his predecessors, who only idealised its brilliance and picturesqueness. He was impressed by the intense, vibrating light and heat, and his pictures seem also to say that he knew how deeply they have affected Eastern life and thought In Eastern lands the European feels as if time had been set back. At home he easily goes back to the Middle Ages ; he may get even so far as imperial Rome ; in the East he is back among the patriarchs. When some fellaheen of modern Egypt saw the wooden effigy of a headman, old by how many thousand years we only approximately calculate, brought up from the tomb in the sand, they cried out that it was the headman of their own village ! It is of this continuity of Eastern life, which the West with difficulty breaks, that Guillaumet's pictures speak to us. Of this we think when we see the colour-washed stone or mud of his buildings, and the interiors with such primitive furnishing. In his Evening Prayer in the Sahara, the desert is darkening as the light fades in the unclouded sky, into which ascend the pillars of smoke from the encampment fires. The irregularly conical tents seem to the eye to rise higher than the distant range of hills, and so give us the measure of the vast spaciousness of the scene. The herdsman keeps watch over the sheep and cattle; by the well stand the camels; in the foreground the men prostrate themselves in prayer. Hardly in any particular was life different from this in patriarchal days. Such a picture can hardly be described as either romantic or realistic. It escapes into the ideal. Our terms, which we use to guide us, mislead us unless we are wary. The real holds the most truly ideal. If we wish for corroboration of this, let us think of Millet's Angelus.
Robert-Fleury, Boulanger, Léon Cogniet, and Gérôme were among the painters who maintained the Romantic tradition after the death of Delacroix, while making it, as Delaroche had already done, more the medium for historical illustration. Monticelli was a brilliant colour-poet. The delicately graceful portraiture and fantasies of Aman Jean belong to the latest phase of Romanticism.
Where shall we place Alphonse Legros? Born at Dijon in 1837, he settled in England in the sixties, and became Professor of Etching at South Kensington, and subsequently Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College, London. In Fantin-Latour's portrait group, entitled Hommage á Delacroix, painted in 1864, and now in the Moreau collection at the Louvre, Legros takes his place before the portrait of the leader of the Romanticists, along with Manet, Whistler, Baudelaire, Duranty, and others. Thoughtfully, almost to sadness, he looks out at the spectator. He has nothing of the eager vivacity of Manet and Whistler; and in his art, be the subject landscape, the life of the poor, or some sacred theme, we find a noble austerity, in form and colour and feeling, and hear the deep undertones of life and nature.
Courbet, as we have seen, pushed on further than Delacroix; he would have nothing to do with even recent history; a painter's concern was, in his opinion, only with what he could see. His Realism paved the way for Impressionism. But there were others whom we must call Realists who yet were not as uncompromising as Courbet. They were willing to take their subjects from history. J. P. Laurens, who chose the darker side of ecclesiastical history, the strong measures of repression and persecution taken by the Church to maintain its authority, as material for his art, belongs to this category. Lon Bonnat, best known as a portrait painter, also painted pictures taken from history and legend as well as from contemporary life. Luminais, Bréhan, and others ransacked history for deeds of violence and blood. The Moorish Headsman of Henri Regnault is a well-known picture in the Wallace Collection, London. His Salome is a mere animal. These and other pictures of his have a brilliant warmth of colour going beyond that of Delacroix. Later still in date he was born in 1859 Georges Rochegrosse has treated scenes from history in the same realistic manner. Roybet found many of his subjects in recent history, and took the Spanish painters for his model in the treatment of them. François Bonvin, who belonged to an earlier generation, painted domestic scenes in the manner of the Dutch masters. Ribot painted scenes from common life, under effects of light thrown out against broad backgrounds of dark shade and shadow, with remark-able power and rendering of character. Chaplin, in his pictures of the semi-nude, passed beyond the sensuous to the sensual. Antoine Vollon has painted interiors, landscapes, and above all, still life. Charles Cazin mingled history with poetic landscape.
It remains, before we turn from painting in France to painting in other countries, to say a word about portraiture.
Many of the painters already discussed have been portraitists, and this side of the art of some of them has been referred to, though in the main we have been occupied with landscape and subject painting.
Has there been a change in portraiture akin to that which we have been tracing in the treatment of landscape and figure-subjects ? The answer is a very decided affirmative. One wonders what would be the effect upon David and Ingres could they visit the exhibitions at the Salons to-day and see portraits composed of dabs of pigment which some-times are not lost sight of individually, even when we have got back to the opposite wall of the room, and which cause M. X. or Mme. Y. to have the appearance of being half-obscured by a steady downfall of confetti ! This is the extreme of change that has taken place from the clear, decisive draughtsmanship of the Classical school, which makes their portraits look as if light shone upon them, but as if atmosphere were a thing unknown in the world in which they lived. Such are the extremes. There are many intermediate stages. Quite unintentionally, through their being unfinished at his death, two of David's portraits now in the Louvre the Madame Récamier and the Madame Chalgrin anticipate Impressionism. Some of the preliminary painting, done in a bold stipple, remains visible, and quite gives the effect of atmospheric vibration. One is re-minded of the outdoor studies of Constable which, as already mentioned, are much more luminous than the pictures which he afterwards worked up from them in the studio. David, however, was a fine portrait painter, a master of characterisation, and he could also interpret feminine charm and beauty. It is significant that in the work of Ingres as a portrait painter his drawings rival, or rather excel, his paintings. He, like David, was a true and sympathetic interpreter of character, and his portraits still hold high place in this respect.
No attempt can be made here even to mention any considerable number of the portrait painters who have worked in France during the last half-century. We are concerned only to note what the art has gained during the period. The gain has been not in power to produce a likeness, to seize an expression, or to interpret character. All this was done long ago perhaps as well as ever it will be done. We may find that the portraits by Baudry and Delaunay are reminiscent of those of Ingres, that, away from the classical influence, Ricard was a colourist, that Bonnat was a virile painter and interpreter of character who has left a valuable record of many notable men of his time, that Gaillard was a literalist, and Dubois more subtle. We may note the hard brilliance of Carolus Duran, and the verve and vivacity of Boldini ; but we can equally establish such differences between contemporary painters in other periods. Perhaps I have said too absolutely that portraiture, in certain all-important respects, cannot now progress. At least, as character changes from age to age, so characterisation changes; and it changes also according to the value placed at different times on various qualities if this be not another way of putting the preceding statement. Anyhow, into these questions I am not prepared to enter. I cannot undertake to show how the portraiture of each half of the nineteenth century reflects contemporary life. The one point upon which I wish to dwell for a moment is the gain to portraiture by the illusion of life obtained by means of the illusion of atmosphere, which, as we have seen, has brought gain also to landscape and subject painting.
It is instructive to note that M. Rodin and his followers have sought to obtain this advantage for sculpture by a deli-berate lack of finish and softening of hard edges calculated to make the figure look as if it were not really hard and rigid, but mobile, and even as if we saw it through a slightly hazy atmosphere.
In painting, of course, we may go back to such masters as Velasquez and Rembrandt and find in their work the effect I have mentioned, and this is precisely what the painters themselves have done. To take only one instance : we have seen that Manet in his portrait painting was influenced by Velasquez and Frans Hals. And has not the deliberate lack of finish in sculpture been attributed to Michael Angelo 4 Certain of the portrait painters of our time, however, have carried effect of atmosphere further than it had been carried before. Eugène Carrière, we recollect, made the atmosphere so visible that the joke of the smoky chimney was made against him. Fantin-Latour, to whose Hommage à Delacroix reference has been made, rendered the effect of atmosphere with great subtlety. A remarkable example of this is the double portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, now in the National Gallery. I have known a lady to step back from a room in which there was a portrait-group by Fantin-Latour under the momentary impression that she was unexpectedly face to face with a number of gentlemen. If the portrait be commonplace, the illusion of life, of course, will give it no distinction. If apart from the illusion it be distinguished, then it gains by all the difference there is between mobility and immobility, between expression and gesture that seem to have been arrested and fixed for ever, and those that seem but momentary and certain soon to change.
The effect is obtained by no one method only. The picture may be smoothly painted, all contours being carefully modelled, all hard edges avoided, all values accurately rendered. Or there may be no finish, but only vigorous lines and simple washes; figures and objects may be defined in part by hard lines that do not exist :in reality ; there may be no colour; yet, as in a black-and-white reproduction of a drawing by Berthe Morisot that lies before me, the light seems so to flash and gleam, to soften even at the distance of a few feet, to shine so dazzlingly nearer to, and so to die away in shade and shadow, that the illusion of reality, of life amid an atmosphere that can be breathed, is extremely vivid. This advantage the portraiture of the later years of the nineteenth century possessed over that of its earlier years.
With this brief note on one conspicuous feature of the development of portrait painting in France during the last fifty years, our study of French painting during that period comes to an end. What is it that we have seen? We have seen the art, in the immediately preceding period, struggling to free itself from the tyranny of tradition, those who engaged in the struggle being subjected to contempt and even derision. First Romanticism won the right to exist, then Realism; and lastly, freedom was gained for the painter to select and emphasise, or even to isolate, any element of beauty or expression in nature and life that especially impressed him. Art became free, for those who cared for the freedom, from the tyranny alike of tradition and of nature. Has liberty come, in some instances, to mean license ; has the artist become a law unto himself ? It often seems so as we walk round exhibitions today. On the other hand, tradition and nature have not been deprived of their liberty, but only of their exclusive authority; and they may be trusted to hold their own in the course of time and change ; already we find that some of the Impressionists are taking up again, because they have enduring value, traditions that had been, perhaps inevitably, cast aside in the time of revolt.
We have now to follow the course of change in other countries, and afterwards to see how and under what influences painting has fared in our own country outside the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
Fifty Years Of Modern Painting:
Fifty Years Of Modern Painting - Introductory
Modern Painting - Pre-raphaelite Brotherhood
Modern Painting - The Impressionists And Their Allies
Modern Painting - The Course Of Pre-raphaelitism
Modern Painting - Painting In France
Modern Painting - Painting In Other Countries
Modern Painting - Painting In Great Britain
Modern Painting - Painting In Great Britain - Part 2