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Title: French Art - Classic and Contemporary Painting and Sculpture
Author: Brownell, W. C. (William Crary), 1851-1928
Language: English
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FRENCH ART

_CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY PAINTING
AND SCULPTURE_

BY
W.C. BROWNELL


NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
1892


Copyright, 1892, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS



TO AUGUSTE RODIN



CONTENTS


                                                 PAGE

I. Classic Painting,                                1
      I. Character and origin.
     II. Claude and Poussin.
    III. Lebrun and Lesueur.
     IV. Louis Quinze.
      V. Greuze and Chardin.
     VI. David, Ingres, and Prudhon.

II. Romantic Painting,                             47
      I. Romanticism.
     II. Géricault and Delacroix.
    III. The Fontainebleau Group.
     IV. The Academic Painters.
      V. Couture, Puvis de Chavannes, and Regnault.

III. Realistic Painting,                           89
      I. Realism.
     II. Courbet and Bastien-Lepage.
    III. The Landscape Painters; Fromentin and Guillaumet.
     IV. Historical and Portrait Painters.
      V. Baudry, Delaunay, Bonvin, Vollon, Gervex,
         Duez, Roll, L'Hermitte, Lerolle, Béraud,
         The Illustrators.
     VI. Manet and Monet.
    VII. Impressionism; Degas.
   VIII. The Outlook.

IV. Classic Sculpture,                             139
      I. Claux Sluters.
     II. Jean Goujon.
    III. Style.
     IV. Clodion, Pradier, and Etex.
      V. Houdon, David d'Angers, and Rude.
     VI. Carpeaux and Barye.

V. Academic Sculpture,                             165

      I. Its Italianate Character.
     II. Chapu.
    III. Dubois.
     IV. Saint-Marceaux and Mercié.
      V. Tyranny of Style.
     VI. Falguière, Barrias, Delaplanche, and Le Feuvre.
    VII. Frémiet.
   VIII. The Institute School in General.

VI. The New Movement in Sculpture,                 205
      I. Rodin.
     II. Dalou.



I


CLASSIC PAINTING


I

More than that of any other modern people French art is a national
expression. It epitomizes very definitely the national æsthetic judgment
and feeling, and if its manifestations are even more varied than are
elsewhere to be met with, they share a certain character that is very
salient. Of almost any French picture or statue of any modern epoch
one's first thought is that it is French. The national quite overshadows
the personal quality. In the field of the fine arts, as in nearly every
other in which the French genius shows itself, the results are evident
of an intellectual co-operation which insures the development of a
common standard and tends to subordinate idiosyncrasy. The fine arts, as
well as every other department of mental activity, reveal the effect of
that social instinct which is so much more powerful in France than it is
anywhere else, or has ever been elsewhere, except possibly in the case
of the Athenian republic. Add to this influence that of the intellectual
as distinguished from the sensuous instinct, and one has, I think, the
key to this salient characteristic of French art which strikes one so
sharply and always as so plainly French. As one walks through the French
rooms at the Louvre, through the galleries of the Luxembourg, through
the unending rooms of the _Salon_ he is impressed by the splendid
competence everywhere displayed, the high standard of culture
universally attested, by the overwhelming evidence that France stands at
the head of the modern world æsthetically--but not less, I think, does
one feel the absence of imagination, opportunity, of spirituality, of
poetry in a word. The French themselves feel something of this. At the
great Exposition of 1889 no pictures were so much admired by them as the
English, in which appeared, even to an excessive degree, just the
qualities in which French art is lacking, and which less than those of
any other school showed traces of the now all but universal influence of
French art. The most distinct and durable impression left by any
exhibition of French pictures is that the French æsthetic genius is at
once admirably artistic and extremely little poetic.

It is a corollary of the predominance of the intellectual over the
sensuous instinct that the true should be preferred to the beautiful,
and some French critics are so far from denying this preference of
French art that they express pride in it, and, indeed, defend it in a
way that makes one feel slightly amateurish and fanciful in thinking of
beauty apart from truth. A walk through the Louvre, however, suffices to
restore one's confidence in his own convictions. The French rooms, at
least until modern periods are reached, are a demonstration that in the
sphere of æsthetics science does not produce the greatest artists--that
something other than intelligent interest and technical accomplishment
are requisite to that end, and that system is fatal to spontaneity. M.
Eugène Véron is the mouthpiece of his countrymen in asserting absolute
beauty to be an abstraction, but the practice of the mass of French
painters is, by comparison with that of the great Italians and Dutchmen,
eloquent of the lack of poetry that results from a scepticism of
abstractions. The French classic painters--and the classic-spirit, in
spite of every force that the modern world brings to its destruction,
persists wonderfully in France--show little absorption, little delight
in their subject. Contrasted with the great names in painting they are
eclectic and traditional, too purely expert. They are too cultivated to
invent. Selection has taken the place of discovery in their inspiration.
They are addicted to the rational and the regulated. Their substance is
never sentimental and incommunicable. Their works have a distinctly
professional air. They distrust what cannot be expressed; what can only
be suggested does not seem to them worth the trouble of trying to
conceive. Beside the world of mystery and the wealth of emotion forming
an imaginative penumbra around such a design as Raphael's Vision of
Ezekiel, for instance, Poussin's treatment of essentially the same
subject is a diagram.

On the other hand, qualities intimately associated with these defects
are quite as noticeable in the old French rooms of the Louvre.
Clearness, compactness, measure, and balance are evident in nearly every
canvas. Everywhere is the air of reserve, of intellectual good-breeding,
of avoidance of extravagance. That French painting is at the head of
contemporary painting, as far and away incontestably it is, is due to
the fact that it alone has kept alive the traditions of art which,
elsewhere than in France, have given place to other and more material
ideals. From the first its practitioners have been artists rather than
poets, have possessed, that is to say, the constructive rather than the
creative, the organizing rather than the imaginative temperament, but
they have rarely been perfunctory and never common. French painting in
its preference of truth to beauty, of intelligence to the beatific
vision, of form to color, in a word, has nevertheless, and perhaps _à
fortiori_, always been the expression of ideas. These ideas almost
invariably have been expressed in rigorous form--form which at times
fringes the lifelessness of symbolism. But even less frequently, I
think, than other peoples have the French exhibited in their painting
that contentment with painting in itself that is the dry rot of art.
With all their addiction to truth and form they have followed this ideal
so systematically that they have never suffered it to become mechanical,
merely _formal_--as is so often the case elsewhere (in England and among
ourselves, everyone will have remarked) in instances where form has been
mainly considered and where sentiment happens to be lacking. Even when
care for form is so excessive as to imply an absence of character, the
form itself is apt to be so distinguished as itself to supply the
element of character, and character consequently particularly refined
and immaterial. And one quality is always present: elegance is always
evidently aimed at and measurably achieved. Native or foreign, real or
factitious as the inspiration of French classicism may be, the sense of
style and of that perfection of style which we know as elegance is
invariably noticeable in its productions. So that, we may say, from
Poussin to Puvis de Chavannes, from Clouet to Meissonier, _taste_--a
refined and cultivated sense of what is sound, estimable, competent,
reserved, satisfactory, up to the mark, and above all, elegant and
distinguished--has been at once the arbiter and the stimulus of
excellence in French painting. It is this which has made the France of
the past three centuries, and especially the France of to-day--as we get
farther and farther away from the great art epochs--both in amount and
general excellence of artistic activity, comparable only with the Italy
of the Renaissance and the Greece of antiquity.

Moreover, it is an error to assume, because form in French painting
appeals to us more strikingly than substance, that French painting is
lacking in substance. In its perfection form appeals to every
appreciation; it is in art, one may say, the one universal language. But
just in proportion as form in a work of art approaches perfection, or
universality, just in that proportion does the substance which it
clothes, which it expresses, seem unimportant to those to whom this
substance is foreign. Some critics have even fancied, for example, that
Greek architecture and sculpture--the only Greek art we know anything
about--were chiefly concerned with form, and that the ideas behind their
perfection of form were very simple and elementary ideas, not at all
comparable in complexity and elaborateness with those that confuse and
distinguish the modern world. When one comes to French art it is still
more difficult for us to realize that the ideas underlying its
expression are ideas of import, validity, and attachment. The truth is
largely that French ideas are not our ideas; not that the French
who--except possibly the ancient Greeks and the modern Germans--of all
peoples in the world are, as one may say, addicted to ideas, are lacking
in them. Technical excellence is simply the inseparable accompaniment,
the outward expression of the kind of æsthetic ideas the French are
enamoured of. Their substance is not our substance, but while it is
perfectly legitimate for us to criticise their substance it is idle to
maintain that they are lacking in substance. If we call a painting by
Poussin pure style, a composition of David merely the perfection of
convention, one of M. Rochegrosse's dramatic canvasses the rhetoric of
technic and that only, we miss something. We miss the idea, the
substance, behind these varying expressions. These are not the less real
for being foreign to us. They are less spiritual and more material, less
poetic and spontaneous, more schooled and traditional than we like to
see associated with such adequacy of expression, but they are not for
that reason more mechanical. They are ideas and substance that lend
themselves to technical expression a thousand times more readily than do
ours. They are, in fact, exquisitely adapted to technical expression.

The substance and ideas which we desire fully expressed in color, form,
or words are, indeed, very exactly in proportion to our esteem of them,
inexpressible. We like hints of the unutterable, suggestions of
significance that is mysterious and import that is incalculable. The
light that "never was on sea or land" is the illumination we seek. The
"Heaven," not the atmosphere that "lies about us" in our mature age as
"in our infancy," is what appeals most strongly to our subordination of
the intellect and the senses to the imagination and the soul. Nothing
with us very deeply impresses the mind if it does not arouse the
emotions. Naturally, thus, we are predisposed insensibly to infer from
French articulateness the absence of substance, to assume from the
triumphant facility and felicity of French expression a certain
insignificance of what is expressed. Inferences and assumptions based on
temperament, however, almost invariably have the vice of superficiality,
and it takes no very prolonged study of French art for candor and
intelligence to perceive that if its substance is weak on the
sentimental, the emotional, the poetic, the spiritual side, it is
exceptionally strong in rhetorical, artistic, cultivated, æsthetically
elevated ideas, as well as in that technical excellence which alone,
owing to our own inexpertness, first strikes and longest impresses us.

When we have no ideas to express, in a word, we rarely save our
emptiness by any appearance of clever expression. When a Frenchman
expresses ideas for which we do not care, with which we are
temperamentally out of sympathy, we assume that his expression is
equally empty. Matthew Arnold cites a passage from Mr. Palgrave, and
comments significantly on it, in this sense. "The style," exclaims Mr.
Palgrave, "which has filled London with the dead monotony of Gower or
Harley Streets, or the pale commonplace of Belgravia, Tyburnia, and
Kensington; which has pierced Paris and Madrid with the feeble
frivolities of the Rue Rivoli and the Strada de Toledo." Upon which
Arnold observes that "the architecture of the Rue Rivoli expresses show,
splendor, pleasure, unworthy things, perhaps, to express alone and for
their own sakes, but it expresses them; whereas, the architecture of
Gower Street and Belgravia merely expresses the impotence of the
architect to express anything."

And in characterizing the turn for poetry in French painting as
comparatively inferior, it will be understood at once, I hope, that I am
comparing it with the imaginativeness of the great Italians and
Dutchmen, and with Rubens and Holbein and Turner, and not asserting the
supremacy in elevated sentiment over Claude and Corot, Chardin, and
Cazin, of the Royal Academy, or the New York Society of American
Artists. And so far as an absolute rather than a comparative standard
may be applied in matters so much too vast for any hope of adequate
treatment according to either method, we ought never to forget that in
criticising French painting, as well as other things French, we are
measuring it by an ideal that now and then we may appreciate better than
Frenchmen, but rarely illustrate as well.


II

Furthermore, the qualities and defects of French painting--the
predominance in it of national over individual force and distinction,
its turn for style, the kind of ideas that inspire its substance, its
classic spirit in fine--are explained hardly less by its historic origin
than by the character of the French genius itself. French painting
really began in connoisseurship, one may say. It arose in appreciation,
that faculty in which the French have always been, and still are,
unrivalled. Its syntheses were based on elements already in combination.
It originated nothing. It was eclectic at the outset. Compared with the
slow and suave evolution of Italian art, in whose earliest dawn its
borrowed Byzantine painting served as a stimulus and suggestion to
original views of natural material rather than as a model for imitation
and modification, the painting that sprang into existence, Minerva-like,
in full armor, at Fontainebleau under Francis I, was of the essence of
artificiality. The court of France was far more splendid than, and
equally enlightened with, that of Florence. The monarch felt his title
to Mæcenasship as justified as that of the Medici. He created,
accordingly, French painting out of hand--I mean, at all events, the
French painting that stands at the beginning of the line of the present
tradition. He summoned Leonardo, Andrea del Sarto, Rossi, Primaticcio,
and founded the famous Fontainebleau school. Of necessity it was
Italianate. It had no Giotto, Masaccio, Raphael behind it. Italian was
the best art going; French appreciation was educated and keen; its
choice between evolution and adoption was inevitable. It was very much
in the position in which American appreciation finds itself to-day. Like
our own painters, the French artists of the Renaissance found themselves
familiar with masterpieces wholly beyond their power to create, and
produced by a foreign people who had enjoyed the incomparable advantage
of arriving at their artistic apogee through natural stages of growth,
beginning with impulse and culminating in expertness.

The situation had its advantages as well as its drawbacks, certainly. It
saved French painting an immense amount of fumbling, of laborious
experimentation, of crudity, of failure. But it stamped it with an
essential artificiality from which it did not fully recover for over
two hundred years, until, insensibly, it had built up its own traditions
and gradually brought about its own inherent development. In a word,
French painting had an intellectual rather than an emotional origin. Its
first practitioners were men of culture rather than of feeling; they
were inspired by the artistic, the constructive, the fashioning, rather
than the poetic, spirit. And so evident is this inclination in even
contemporary French painting--and indeed in all French æsthetic
expression--that it cannot be ascribed wholly to the circumstances
mentioned. The circumstances themselves need an explanation, and find it
in the constitution itself of the French mind, which (owing, doubtless,
to other circumstances, but that is extraneous) is fundamentally less
imaginative and creative than co-ordinating and constructive.

Naturally thus, when the Italian influence wore itself out, and the
Fontainebleau school gave way to a more purely national art; when France
had definitely entered into her Italian heritage and had learned the
lessons that Holland and Flanders had to teach her as well; when, in
fine, the art of the modern world began, it was an art of grammar, of
rhetoric. Certainly up to the time of Géricault painting in general held
itself rather pedantically aloof from poetry. Claude, Chardin, what may
be called the illustrated _vers de société_ of the Louis Quinze
painters--of Watteau and Fragonard--even Prudhon, did little to change
the prevailing color and tone. Claude's art is, in manner, thoroughly
classic. His _personal_ influence was perhaps first felt by Corot. He
stands by himself, at any rate, quite apart. He was the first thoroughly
original French painter, if indeed one may not say he was the first
thoroughly original modern painter. He has been assigned to both the
French and Italian schools--to the latter by Gallophobist critics,
however, through a partisanship which in æsthetic matters is ridiculous;
there was in his day no Italian school for him to belong to. The truth
is that he passed a large part of his life in Italy and that his
landscape is Italianate. But more conspicuously still, it is
ideal--ideal in the sense intended by Goethe in saying, "There are no
landscapes in nature like those of Claude." There are not, indeed.
Nature has been transmuted by Claude's alchemy with lovelier results
than any other painter--save always Corot, shall I say?--has ever
achieved. Witness the pastorals at Madrid, in the Doria Gallery at Rome,
the "Dido and Æneas" at Dresden, the sweet and serene superiority of the
National Gallery canvases over the struggling competition manifest in
the Turners juxtaposed to them through the unlucky ambition of the great
English painter. Mr. Ruskin says that Claude could paint a small wave
very well, and acknowledges that he effected a revolution in art, which
revolution "consisted mainly in setting the sun in heavens." "Mainly" is
delightful, but Claude's excellence consists in his ability to paint
visions of loveliness, pictures of pure beauty, not in his skill in
observing the drawing of wavelets or his happy thought of painting
sunlight. Mr. George Moore observes ironically of Mr. Ruskin that his
grotesque depreciation of Mr. Whistler--"the lot of critics" being "to
be remembered by what they have failed to understand"--"will survive his
finest prose passage." I am not sure about Mr. Whistler. Contemporaries
are too near for a perfect critical perspective. But assuredly Mr.
Ruskin's failure to perceive Claude's point of view--to perceive that
Claude's aim and Stanfield's, say, were quite different; that Claude, in
fact, was at the opposite pole from the botanist and the geologist whom
Mr. Ruskin's "reverence for nature" would make of every landscape
painter--is a failure in appreciation than to have shown which it would
be better for him as a critic never to have been born. It seems hardly
fanciful to say that the depreciation of Claude by Mr. Ruskin, who is a
landscape painter himself, using the medium of words instead of
pigments, is, so to speak, professionally unjust.

"Go out, in the springtime, among the meadows that slope from the
shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains. There,
mingled with the taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass
grows deep and free; and as you follow the winding mountain paths,
beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom--paths that
forever droop and rise over the green banks and mounds sweeping down in
scented undulation, steep to the blue water, studded here and there with
new-mown heaps, filling the air with fainter sweetness--look up toward
the higher hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently
into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines."

Claude's landscape is not Swiss, but if it were it would awaken in the
beholder a very similar sensation to that aroused in the reader of this
famous passage. Claude indeed painted landscape in precisely this way.
He was perhaps the first--though priority in such matters is trivial
beside pre-eminence--who painted _effects_ instead of _things_. Light
and air were his material, not ponds and rocks and clouds and trees and
stretches of plain and mountain outlines. He first generalized the
phenomena of inanimate nature, and in this he remains still unsurpassed.
But, superficially, his scheme wore the classic aspect, and neither his
contemporaries nor his successors, for over two hundred years,
discovered the immense value of his point of view, and the puissant
charm of his way of rendering nature.

Poussin, however, was the incarnation of the classic spirit, and perhaps
the reason why a disinterested foreigner finds it difficult to
appreciate the French estimate of him is that no foreigner, however
disinterested, can quite appreciate the French appreciation of the
classic spirit in and for itself. But when one listens to expressions of
admiration for the one French "old master," as one may call Poussin
without invidiousness, it is impossible not to scent chauvinism, as one
scents it in the German panegyrics of Goethe, for example. He was a very
great painter, beyond doubt. And as there were great men before
Agamemnon there have been great painters since Raphael and Titian, even
since Rembrandt and Velasquez. He had a strenuous personality, moreover.
You know a Poussin at once when you see it. But to find the suggestion
of the infinite, the Shakespearian touch in his work seems to demand the
imaginativeness of M. Victor Cherbuliez. When Mr. Matthew Arnold
ventured to remark to Sainte-Beuve that he could not consider Lamartine
as a very important poet, Sainte-Beuve replied: "He was important to
us." Many critics, among them one severer than Sainte-Beuve, the late
Edmond Scherer, have given excellent reasons for Lamartine's absolute as
well as relative importance, and perhaps it is a failure in
appreciation on our part that is really responsible for our feeling that
Poussin is not quite the great master the French deem him. Assuredly he
might justifiably apply to himself the "Et-Ego-in-Arcadia" inscription
in one of his most famous paintings. And the specific service he
performed for French painting and the relative rank he occupies in it
ought not to obscure his purely personal qualities, which, if not
transcendent, are incontestably elevated and fine.

His qualities, however, are very thoroughly French qualities--poise,
rationality, science, the artistic dominating the poetic faculty, and
style quite outshining significance and suggestion. He learned all he
knew of art, he said, from the Bacchus Torso at Naples. But he was
eclectic rather than imitative, and certainly used the material he found
in the works of his artistic ancestors as freely and personally as
Raphael the frescos of the Baths of Titus, or Donatello the fragments of
antique sculpture. From his time on, indeed, French painting dropped its
Italian leading-strings. He might often suggest Raphael--and any painter
who suggests Raphael inevitably suffers for it--but always with an
individual, a native, a French difference, and he is as far removed in
spirit and essence from the Fontainebleau school as the French genius
itself is from the Italian which presided there. In Poussin, indeed,
the French genius first asserts itself in painting. And it asserts
itself splendidly in him.

We who ask to be moved as well as impressed, who demand satisfaction of
the susceptibility as well as--shall we say rather than?--interest of
the intelligence, may feel that for the qualities in which Poussin is
lacking those in which he is rich afford no compensation whatever. But I
confess that in the presence of even that portion of Poussin's
magnificent accomplishment which is spread before one in the Louvre, to
wish one's self in the Stanze of the Vatican or in the Sistine Chapel,
seems to me an unintelligent sacrifice of one's opportunities.


III

It is a sure mark of narrowness and defective powers of perception to
fail to discover the point of view even of what one disesteems. We talk
of Poussin, of Louis Quatorze art--as of its revival under David and its
continuance in Ingres--of, in general, modern classic art as if it were
an art of convention merely; whereas, conventional as it is, its
conventionality is--or was, certainly, in the seventeenth century--very
far from being pure formulary. It was genuinely expressive of a certain
order of ideas intelligently held, a certain set of principles
sincerely believed in, a view of art as positive and genuine as the
revolt against the tyrannous system into which it developed. We are
simply out of sympathy with its aim, its ideal; perhaps, too, for that
most frivolous of all reasons because we have grown tired of it.

But the business of intelligent criticism is to be in touch with
everything. "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner," as the French
ethical maxim has it, may be modified into the true motto of æsthetic
criticism, "Tout comprendre, c'est tout justifier." Of course, by
"criticism" one does not mean pedagogy, as so many people constantly
imagine, nor does justifying everything include bad drawing. But as
Lebrun, for example, is not nowadays held up as a model to young
painters, and is not to be accused of bad drawing, why do we so entirely
dispense ourselves from comprehending him at all? Lebrun is, perhaps,
not a painter of enough personal importance to repay attentive
consideration, and historic importance does not greatly concern
criticism. But we pass him by on the ground of his conventionality,
without remembering that what appears conventional to us was in his case
not only sincerity but aggressive enthusiasm. If there ever was a
painter who exercised what creative and imaginative faculty he had with
an absolute gusto, Lebrun did so. He interested his contemporaries
immensely; no painter ever ruled more unrivalled. He fails to interest
us because we have another point of view. We believe in our point of
view and disbelieve in his as a matter of course; and it would be
self-contradictory to say, in the interests of critical catholicity,
that in our opinion his may be as sound as our own. But to say that he
has no point of view whatever--to say, in general, that modern classic
art is perfunctory and mere formulary--is to be guilty of what has
always been the inherent vice of protestantism in all fields of mental
activity.

Nowhere has protestantism exhibited this defect more palpably than in
the course of evolution of schools of painting. Pre-Raphaelitism is
perhaps the only exception, and pre-Raphaelitism was a violent and
emotional counter-revolution rather than a movement characterized by
catholicity of critical appreciation. Literary criticism is certainly
full of similar intolerance; though when Gautier talks about Racine, or
Zola about "Mes Haines," or Mr. Howells about Scott, the polemic temper,
the temper most opposed to the critical, is very generally recognized.
And in spite of their admirable accomplishment in various branches of
literature, these writers will never quite recover from the misfortune
of having preoccupied themselves as critics with the defects instead of
the qualities of what is classic. Yet the protestantism of the
successive schools of painting against the errors of their predecessors
has something even more crass about it. Contemporary painters and
critics thoroughly alive, and fully in the contemporary æsthetic
current, so far from appreciating modern classic art sympathetically,
are apt to admire the old masters themselves mainly on technical
grounds, and not at all to enter into their general æsthetic attitude.
The feeling of contemporary painters and critics (except, of course,
historical critics) for Raphael's genius is the opposite of cordial. We
are out of touch with the "Disputa," with angels and prophets seated on
clouds, with halos and wings, with such inconsistencies as the "Doge
praying" in a picture of the marriage of St. Catherine, with the mystic
marriage itself. Raphael's grace of line and suave space-filling shapes
are mainly what we think of; the rest we call convention. We are become
literal and exacting, addicted to the pedantry of the prescriptive, if
not of the prosaic.

Take such a picture as M. Edouard Detaille's "Le Rêve," which won him so
much applause a few years ago. M. Detaille is an irreproachable realist,
and may do what he likes in the way of the materially impossible with
impunity. Sleeping soldiers, without a gaiter-button lacking,
bivouacking on the ground amid stacked arms whose bayonets would prick;
above them in the heavens the clash of contending ghostly
armies--wraiths born of the sleepers' dreams. That we are in touch with.
No one would object to it except under penalty of being scouted as
pitiably literal. Yet the scheme is as thoroughly conventional--that is
to say, it is as closely based on hypothesis universally assumed for the
moment--as Lebrun's "Triumph of Alexander." The latter is as much a true
expression of an ideal as Detaille's picture. It is an ideal now become
more conventional, undoubtedly, but it is as clearly an ideal and as
clearly genuine. The only point I wish to make is, that Lebrun's
painting--Louis Quatorze painting--is not the perfunctory thing we are
apt to assume it to be. That is not the same thing, I hope, as
maintaining that M. Bouguereau is significant rather than insipid.
Lebrun was assuredly not a strikingly original painter. His crowds of
warriors bear a much closer resemblance to Raphael's "Battle of
Constantine and Maxentius" than the "Transfiguration" of the Vatican
does to Giotto's, aside from the important circumstance that the
difference in the latter instance shows development, while the former
illustrates mainly an enfeebled variation. But there is unquestionably
something of Lebrun in Lebrun's work--something typical of the age whose
artistic spirit he so completely expressed.

To perceive that Louis Quatorze art is not all convention it is only
necessary to remember that Lesueur is to be bracketed with Lebrun. All
the sympathy which the Anglo-Saxon temperament withholds from the
histrionism of Lebrun is instinctively accorded to his gentle and
graceful contemporary, who has been called--_faute de mieux_, of
course--the French Raphael. Really Lesueur is as nearly conventional as
Lebrun. He has at any rate far less force; and even if we may maintain
that he had a more individual point of view, his works are assuredly
more monotonous to the scrutinizing sense. It is impossible to recall
any one of the famous San Bruno series with any particularity, or,
except in subject, to distinguish these in the memory from the sweet and
soft "St. Scholastica" in the _Salon Carré_. With more sapience and less
sensitiveness, Bouguereau is Lesueur's true successor, to say which is
certainly not to affirm a very salient originality of the older painter.
He had a great deal of very exquisite feeling for what is refined and
elevated, but clearly it is a moral rather than an æsthetic delicacy
that he exhibits, and æsthetically he exercises his sweeter and more
sympathetic sensibility within the same rigid limits which circumscribe
that of Lebrun. He has, indeed, less invention, less imagination, less
sense of composition, less wealth of detail, less elaborateness, no
greater concentration or sense of effect; and though his color is more
agreeable, perhaps, in hue, it gets its tone through the absence of
variety rather than through juxtapositions and balances. The truth is,
that both equally illustrate the classic spirit, the spirit of their age
_par excellence_ and of French painting in general, in a supreme degree,
though the conformability of the one is positive and of the other
passive, so to say; and that neither illustrates quite the subserviency
to the conventional which we, who have undoubtedly just as many
conventions of our own, are wont to ascribe to them, and to Lebrun in
particular.


IV

Fanciful as the Louis Quinze art seems, by contrast with that of Louis
Quatorze, it, too, is essentially classic. It is free enough--no one, I
think, would deny that--but it is very far from individual in any
important sense. It has, to be sure, more personal feeling than that of
Lesueur or Lebrun. The artist's susceptibility seems to come to the
surface for the first time. Watteau, Fragonard--Fragonard especially,
the exquisite and impudent--are as gay, as spontaneous, as careless, as
vivacious as Boldini. Boucher's goddesses and cherubs, disporting
themselves in graceful abandonment on happily disposed clouds, outlined
in cumulus masses against unvarying azure, are as unrestrained and
independent of prescription as Monticelli's figures. Lancret, Pater,
Nattier, and Van Loo--the very names suggest not merely freedom but a
sportive and abandoned license. But in what a narrow round they move!
How their imaginativeness is limited by their artificiality! What a
talent, what a genius they have for artificiality. It is the era _par
excellence_ of dilettantism, and nothing is less romantic than
dilettantism. Their evident feeling--and evidently genuine feeling--is
feeling for the factitious, for the manufactured, for what the French
call the _confectionné_. Their romantic quality is to that of the modern
Fontainebleau group as the exquisite _vers de société_ of Mr. Austin
Dobson, say, is to the turbulent yet profound romanticism of Heine or
Burns. Every picture painted by them would go as well on a fan as in a
frame. All their material is traditional. They simply handle it as
_enfants terribles_. Intellectually speaking, they are painters of a
silver age. Of ideas they have almost none. They are as barren of
invention in any large sense as if they were imitators instead of, in a
sense, the originators of a new phase. Their originality is arrived at
rather through exclusion than discovery. They simply drop pedantry and
exult in irresponsibility. They are hardly even a school.

Yet they have, one and all, in greater or less degree, that distinct
quality of charm which is eternally incompatible with routine. They are
as little constructive as the age itself, as anything that we mean when
we use the epithet Louis Quinze. Of everything thus indicated one
predicates at once unconsciousness, the momentum of antecedent thought
modified by the ease born of habit; the carelessness due to having one's
thinking done for one and the license of proceeding fancifully,
whimsically, even freakishly, once the lines and limits of one's action
have been settled by more laborious, more conscientious philosophy than
in such circumstances one feels disposed to frame for one's self. There
is no break with the Louis Quatorze things, not a symptom of revolt;
only, after them the deluge! But out of this very condition of things,
and out of this attitude of mind, arises a new art, or rather a new
phase of art, essentially classic, as I said, but nevertheless imbued
with a character of its own, and this character distinctly charming.
Wherein does the charm consist? In two qualities, I think, one of which
has not hitherto appeared in French painting, or, indeed, in any art
whatever, namely, what we understand by cleverness as a distinct element
in treatment--and color. Color is very prominent nowadays in all writing
about art, though recently it has given place, in the fashion of the
day, to "values" and the realistic representation of natural objects as
the painter's proper aim. What precisely is meant by color would be
difficult, perhaps, to define. A warmer general tone than is achieved by
painters mainly occupied with line and mass is possibly what is oftenest
meant by amateurs who profess themselves fond of color. At all events,
the Louis Quinze painters, especially Watteau, Fragonard, and Pater--and
Boucher has a great deal of the same feeling--were sensitive to that
vibration of atmosphere that blends local hues into the _ensemble_ that
produces tone. The _ensemble_ of their tints is what we mean by color.
Since the Venetians _this_ note had not appeared. They constitute, thus,
a sort of romantic interregnum--still very classic, from an intellectual
point of view--between the classicism of Lebrun and the still greater
severity of David. Nothing in the evolution of French painting is more
interesting than this reverberation of Tintoretto and Tiepolo.

By cleverness, as exhibited by the Louis Quinze painters, I do not mean
mere technical ability, but something more inclusive, something relating
quite as much to attitude of mind as to dexterity of treatment. They
conceive as cleverly as they execute. There is a sense of confidence and
capability in the way they view, as well as in the way they handle,
their light material. They know it thoroughly, and are thoroughly at one
with it. And they exploit it with a serene air of satisfaction, as if
it were the only material in the world worth handling. Indeed, it is
exquisitely adapted to their talent. So little significance has it that
one may say it exists merely to be cleverly dealt with, to be
represented, distributed, compared, and generally utilized solely with
reference to the display of the artist's jaunty skill. It is, one may
say, merely the raw material for the production of an effect, and an
effect demanding only what we mean by cleverness; no knowledge and love
of nature, no prolonged study, no acquaintance with the antique, for
example, no philosophy whatever--unless poco-curantism be called a
philosophy, which eminently it is not. To be adequate to the
requirements--rarely very exacting in any case--made of one, never to
show stupidity, to have a great deal of taste and an instinctive feeling
for what is elegant and refined, to abhor pedantry and take gayety at
once lightly and seriously, and beyond this to take no thought, is to be
clever; and in this sense the Louis Quinze painters are the first, as
they certainly are the typical, clever artists.

In Louis Quinze art the subject is more than effaced to give free swing
to technical cleverness; it is itself contributory to such cleverness,
and really a part of it. The artists evidently look on life, as they
paint their pictures, as the web whereon to sketch exhibitions of skill
in the composition of sensation-provoking combinations--combinations,
thus, provoking sensations of the lightest and least substantial kind.
When you stand before one of Fragonard's bewitching models, modishly
modified into a great--or rather a little--lady, you not only note the
color--full of tone on the one hand and of variety on the other, besides
exhibiting the happiest selective quality in warm and yet delicate hues
and tints; you not only, furthermore, observe the clever touch just
poised between suggestion and expression, coquettishly suppressing a
detail here, and emphasizing a characteristic there; you feel, in
addition, that the entire object floats airily in an atmosphere of
cleverness; that it is but a bit, an example, a miniature type of an
environment wholly attuned to the note of cleverness--of competence,
facility, grace, elegance, and other abstract but not at all abstruse
qualities, quite unrelated to what, in any profound sense, at least, is
concrete and vitally significant. Artificiality so permeated the Louis
Quinze epoch, indeed, that one may say that nature itself was
artificial--that is to say, all the nature Louis Quinze painters had to
paint; at least all they could have been called upon to think of
painting. What a distinction is, after all, theirs! To have created out
of nothing, or next to nothing, something charming, and enduringly
charming; something of a truly classic inspiration without dependence
at bottom on the real and the actual; something as little indebted to
facts and things as a fairy tale, and withal marked by such qualities as
color and cleverness in so eminent a degree.

The Louis Quinze painters may be said, indeed, to have had the romantic
temperament with the classic inspiration. They have audacity rather than
freedom, license modified by strict limitation to the lines within which
it is exercised. But there can be no doubt that this limitation is more
conspicuous in their charmingly irresponsible works than is, essentially
speaking, their irresponsibility itself. They never give their
imagination free play. Sportive and spontaneous as it appears, it is
equally clear that its activities are bounded by conservatory confines.
Watteau, born on the Flemish border, is almost an exception. Temperament
in him seems constantly on the verge of conquering tradition and
environment. Now and then he seems to be on the point of emancipation,
and one expects to come upon some work in which he has expressed himself
and attested his ideality. But one is as constantly disappointed. His
color and his cleverness are always admirable and winning, but his
import is perversely--almost bewitchingly--slight. What was he thinking
of? one asks, before his delightful canvases; and one's conclusion
inevitably is, certainly as near nothing at all as can be consistent
with so much charm and so much real power. As to Watteau, one's last
thought is of what he would have been in a different æsthetic
atmosphere, in an atmosphere that would have stimulated his really
romantic temperament to extra-traditional flights, instead of confining
it within the inexorable boundaries of classic custom; an atmosphere
favorable to the free exercise of his adorable fancy, instead of
rigorously insistent on conforming this, so far as might be, to
customary canons, and, at any rate, restricting its exercise to material
_à la mode_. A little landscape in the La Caze collection in the Louvre,
whose romantic and truly poetic feeling agreeably pierces through its
elegance, is eloquent of such reflections.


V

With Greuze and Chardin we are supposed to get into so different a
sphere of thought and feeling that the change has been called a "return
to nature"--that "return to nature" of which we hear so much in
histories of literature as well as of the plastic arts. The notion is
not quite sound. Chardin is a painter who seems to me, at least, to
stand quite apart, quite alone, in the development of French painting,
whereas there could not be a more marked instance of the inherence of
the classic spirit in the French æsthetic nature than is furnished by
Greuze. The first French painter of _genre_, in the full modern sense of
the term, the first true interpreter of scenes from humble life--of
lowly incident and familiar situations, of broken jars and paternal
curses, and buxom girls and precocious children--he certainly is. There
is certainly nothing _régence_ about him. But the beginning and end of
Greuze's art is convention. He is less imaginative, less romantic, less
real than the painting his replaced. That was at least a mirror of the
ideals, the spirit, the society, of the day. A Louis Quinze fan is a
genuine and spontaneous product of a free and elastic æsthetic impulse
beside one of his stereotyped sentimentalities.

The truth is, Greuze is as sentimental as a bullfinch, but he has hardly
a natural note in his gamut. Nature is not only never his model, she is
never his inspiration. He is distinctively a literary painter; but this
description is not minute enough. His conventions are those not merely
of the _littérateur_, but of the extremely conventional _littérateur_.
An artless platitude is really more artificial than a clever paradox; it
doesn't even cast a side-light on the natural material with which it
deals. Greuze's _genre_ is really a _genre_ of his own--his own and that
of kindred spirits since. It is as systematic and detached as the art of
Poussin. The forms it embodies merely have more natural, more familiar
associations. But compare one of his compositions with those of the
little Dutch and Flemish masters, for truth, feeling, nature handled
after her own suggestions, instead of within limits and on lines imposed
upon her from without. By the side of Van Ostade or Brauer, for example,
one of Greuze's bits of humble life seems like an academic composition,
quite out of touch with its subject, and, except for its art, absolutely
lifeless and insipid.

In a word, his choice of subjects, of _genre_, is really no disguise at
all of his essential classicality. Both ideally and technically, in the
way he conceives and the way he handles his subject, he is only
superficially romantic or real. His literature, so to speak, is as
conventional as his composition. One may compare him to Hogarth, though
both as a moralist and a technician _a longo intervallo_, of course. He
is assuredly not to be depreciated. His scheme of color is clear if not
rich, his handling is frank if not unctuous or subtly interesting, his
composition is careful and clever, and some of his heads are admirably
painted--painted with a genuine feeling for quality. But his merits as
well as his failings are decidedly academic, and as a romanticist he is
really masquerading. He is much nearer to Fragonard than he is to
Edouard Frère even.

Chardin, on the other hand, is the one distinguished exception to the
general character of French art in the artificial and intellectual
eighteenth century. He is as natural as a Dutchman, and as modern as
Vollon. As you walk through the French galleries of the Louvre, of all
the canvases antedating our own era his are those toward which one feels
the most sympathetic attraction, I think. You note at once his
individuality, his independence of schools and traditions, his personal
point of view, his preoccupation with the object as he perceives it.
Nothing is more noteworthy in the history of French art, in the current
of which the subordination of the individual genius to the general
consensus is so much the rule, than the occasional exception--now of a
single man, now of a group of men, destined to become in its turn a
school--the occasional accent or interruption of the smooth course of
slow development on the lines of academic precedent. Tyrannical as
academic precedent is (and nowhere has it been more tyrannical than in
French painting) the general interest in æsthetic subjects which a
general subscription to academic precedent implies is certainly to be
credited with the force and genuineness of the occasional protestant
against the very system that has been powerful enough to popularize
indefinitely the subject both of subscription and of revolt. Without
some such systematic propagandism of the æsthetic cultus as from the
first the French Institute has been characterized by, it is very
doubtful if, in the complexity of modern society, the interest in
æsthetics can ever be made wide enough, universal enough, to spread
beyond those immediately and professionally concerned with it. The
immense impetus given to this interest by a central organ of authority,
that dignifies the subject with which it occupies itself and draws
attention to its value and its importance, has, _à priori_, the manifest
effect of leading persons to occupy themselves with it, also, who
otherwise would never have had their attention drawn to it. It would
scarcely be an exaggeration to say, in other words, that but for the
Institute there would not be a tithe of the number of names now on the
roll of French artists. When art is in the air--and nothing so much as
an academy produces this condition--the chances of the production of
even an unacademic artist are immensely increased.

So in the midst of the Mignardise of Louis Quinze painting it is only
superficially surprising to find a painter of the original force and
flavor of Chardin. His wholesome and yet subtle variations from the art
_à la mode_ of his epoch might have been painted in the Holland of his
day, or in our day anywhere that art so good as Chardin's can be
produced, so far as subject and moral and technical attitude are
concerned. They are, in quite accentuated contra-distinction from the
works of Greuze, thoroughly in the spirit of simplicity and directness.
One notes in them at once that moral simplicity which predisposes
everyone to sympathetic appreciation. The special ideas of his time seem
to pass him by unmoved. He has no community of interest with them. While
he was painting his still life and domestic genre, the whole fantastic
whirl of Louis Quinze society, with its æsthetic standards and
accomplishments--accomplishments and standards that imposed themselves
everywhere else--was in agitated movement around him without in the
least affecting his serene tranquillity, his almost sturdy composure.
There can rarely have been such an instance as he affords of an artist's
selecting from his environment just those things his own genius needed,
and rejecting just what would have hampered or distracted him. He is as
sane, as unsentimental, as truthful and unpretending as the most literal
and unimaginative Dutchman of his time or before it; but he has also
that feeling for style, and that instinct for avoiding the common and
unclean which always seem to prevent French painters from "sinking with
their subject," as Dutch painters have been said to do. He seems never
to let himself go either in the direction of Greuze's literary and
sentimental manipulation of his homely material, or in the direction of
supine satisfaction with this material, unrelieved and unelevated by an
individual point of view, illustrated by the Brauers and Steens and
Ostades. One perceives that what he cared for was really art itself, for
the æsthetic aspect and significance of the life he painted.
Affectionate as his interest in it evidently was, he as evidently
thought of its artistic potentialities, its capability of being treated
with refinement and delicacy, and of being made to serve the ends of
beauty equally well with the conventionally beautiful material of his
fan-painting contemporaries. He looked at the world very originally
through and over those round, horn-bowed spectacles of his, with a very
shrewd and very kindly and sympathetic glance, too; quite untinctured
with prejudice or even predisposition. One can read his artistic
isolation in his countenance with a very little exercise of fancy.


VI

It is the fashion to think of David as the painter of the Revolution and
the Empire. Really he is Louis Seize. Historical critics say that he had
no fewer than four styles, but apart from obvious labels they would be
puzzled to tell to which of these styles any individual picture of his
belongs. He was from the beginning extremely, perhaps absurdly,
enamoured of the antique, and we usually associate addiction to the
antique with the Revolutionary period. But perhaps politics are slower
than the æsthetic movement; David's view of art and practice of painting
were fixed unalterably under the reign of philosophism. Philosophism, as
Carlyle calls it, is the ruling spirit of his work. Long before the
Revolution--in 1774--he painted what is still his most characteristic
picture--"The Oath of the Horatii." His art developed and grew
systematized under the Republic and the Empire; but Napoleon, whose
genius crystallized the elements of everything in all fields of
intellectual effort with which he occupied himself, did little but
formally "consecrate," in French phrase, the art of the painter of "The
Oath of the Horatii" and the originator and designer of the "Fête" of
Robespierre's "Être Suprême." Spite of David's subserviency and that of
others, he left painting very much where he found it. And he found it in
a state of reaction against the Louis Quinze standards. The break with
these, and with everything _régence_, came with Louis Seize, Chardin
being a notable exception and standing quite apart from the general
drift of the French æsthetic movement; and Greuze being only a
pseudo-romanticist, and his work a variant of, rather than reactionary
from, the artificiality of his day. Before painting could "return to
nature," before the idea and inspiration of true romanticism could be
born, a reaction in the direction of severity after the artificial yet
irresponsible riot of the Louis Quinze painters was naturally and
logically inevitable. Painting was modified in the same measure with
every other expression in the general _recueillement_ that followed the
extravagance in all social and intellectual fields of the Louis Quinze
epoch. But in becoming more chaste it did not become less classical.
Indeed, so far as severity is a trait of classicality--and it is only an
associated not an essential trait of it--painting became more classical.
It threw off its extravagances without swerving from the artificial
character of its inspiration. Art in general seemed content with
substituting the straight line for the curve--a change from Louis Quinze
to Louis Seize that is very familiar even to persons who note the
transitions between the two epochs only in the respective furniture of
each; a Louis Quinze chair or mirror, for example, having a flowing
outline, whereas a Louis Seize equivalent is more rigid and rectilinear.

David is artificial, it is to be pointed out, only in his _ensemble_. In
detail he is real enough. And he always has an _ensemble_. His
compositions, as compositions, are admirable. They make a total
impression, and with a vigor and vividness that belong to few
constructed pictures. The canvas is always penetrated with
David--illustrates as a whole, and with completeness and comparative
flawlessness, his point of view, his conception of the subject. This, of
course, is the academic point of view, the academic conception. But, as
I say, his detail is surprisingly truthful and studied. His
picture--which is always nevertheless a picture--is as inconceivable, as
traditional in its inspiration, as factitious as you like; his figures
are always sapiently and often happily exact. His portraits are
absolutely vital characterizations. And in general his sculptural sense,
his self-control, his perfect power of expressing what he deemed worth
expressing, are really what are noteworthy in his pictures, far more
than their monotonous coloration and the coldness and unreality of the
pictures themselves, considered as moving, real, or significant
compositions. In admiration of these it is impossible for us nowadays to
go as far as even the romanticist, though extremely catholic, Gautier.
They leave us cold. We have a wholly different ideal, which in order to
interest us powerfully painting must illustrate--an ideal of more
pertinence and appositeness to our own moods and manner of thought and
feeling.

Ingres, a painter of considerably less force, I think, comes much nearer
to doing this. He is more elastic, less devoted to system. Without being
as free, as sensitive to impressions as we like to see an artist of his
powers, he escapes pedantry. His subject is not "The Rape of the
Sabines," but "The Apotheosis of Homer," academic but not academically
fatuitous. To follow the inspiration of the Vatican Stanze in the
selection and treatment of ideal subjects is to be far more closely in
touch with contemporary feeling as to what is legitimate and proper in
imaginative painting, than to pictorialize an actual event with a
systematic artificiality and conformity to abstractions that would
surely have made the sculptor of the Trajan column smile. Yet I would
rather have "The Rape of the Sabines" within visiting distance than "The
Apotheosis of Homer." It is better, at least solider, painting. The
painter, however dominated by his theory, is more the master of its
illustration than Ingres is of the justification of his admiration for
Raphael. The "Homer" attempts more, but it is naturally not as
successful in getting as effective a unity out of its greater
complexity. It is in his less ambitious pictures that the genius of
Ingres is unmistakably evident--his heads, his single figures, his
exquisite drawings almost in outline. His "Odalisque" of the Louvre is
not as forceful as David's portrait of Madame Récamier, but it is a
finer thing. I should like the two to have changed subjects in this
instance. His "Source" is beautifully drawn and modelled. In everything
he did distinction is apparent. Inferior assuredly to David when he
attempted the grand style, he had a truer feeling for the subtler
qualities of style itself. All his works are linearly beautiful
demonstrations of his sincerity--his sanity indeed--in proclaiming that
drawing is "the probity of art."

With a few contemporary painters and critics, whose specific penetration
is sometimes in curious contrast with their imperfect catholicity, he
has recently come into vogue again, after having been greatly neglected
since the romantic outburst. But he belongs completely to the classic
epoch. Neither he nor his refined and sympathetic pupil, Flandrin, did
aught to pave the way for the modern movement. Intimations of the
shifting point of view are discoverable rather in a painter of far
deeper poetic interest than either, spite of Ingres's refinement and
Flandrin's elevation--in Prudhon. Prudhon is the link between the last
days of the classic supremacy and the rise of romanticism. Like Claude,
like Chardin, he stands somewhat apart; but he has distinctly the
romantic inspiration, constrained and regularized by classic principles
of taste. He is the French Correggio in far more precise parallelism
than Lesueur is the French Raphael. With a grace and lambent color all
his own--a beautiful mother-of-pearl and opalescent tone underlying his
exquisite violets and graver hues; a color-scheme, on the one hand, and
a sense of design in line and mass more suave and graceful than anything
since the great Italians, on the other--he recalls the lovely
chiaro-oscuro of the exquisite Parmesan as it is recalled in no other
modern painter. Occupying, as incontestably he does, his own niche in
the pantheon of painters, he nevertheless illustrates most distinctly
and unmistakably the slipping away of French painting from classic
formulas as well as from classic extravagance, and the tendency to new
ideals of wider reach and greater tolerance--of more freedom,
spontaneity, interest in "life and the world"--of a definitive break
with the contracting and constricting forces of classicism. During its
next period, and indeed down to the present day, French painting will
preserve the essence of its classic traditions, variously modified from
decade to decade, but never losing the quality in virtue of which what
is French is always measurably the most classic thing going; but of this
next period certainly Prudhon is the precursor, who, with all his
classic serenity, presages its passion for "storms, clouds, effusion,
and relief."



II


ROMANTIC PAINTING


I

When we come to Scott after Fielding, says Mr. Stevenson, "we become
suddenly conscious of the background." The remark contains an admirable
characterization of romanticism; as distinguished from classicism,
romanticism is consciousness of the background. With Gros, Géricault,
Paul Huet, Michel, Delacroix, French painting ceased to be abstract and
impersonal. Instead of continuing the classic detachment, it became
interested, curious, and catholic. It broadened its range immensely, and
created its effect by observing the relations of its objects to their
environment, of its figures to the landscape, of its subjects to their
suggestions even in other spheres of thought; Delacroix, Marilhat,
Decamps, Fromentin, in painting the aspect of Orientalism, suggested,
one may almost say, its sociology. For the abstractions of classicism,
its formula, its fastidious system of arriving at perfection by
exclusions and sacrifices, it substituted an enthusiasm for the concrete
and the actual; it revelled in natural phenomena. Gautier was never
more definitely the exponent of romanticism than in saying "I am a man
for whom the visible world exists." To lines and curves and masses and
their relations in composition, succeeds as material for inspiration and
reproduction the varied spectacle of the external world. With the early
romanticists it may be said that for the first time the external world
"swims into" the painter's "ken." But, above all, in them the element of
personality first appears in French painting with anything like general
acceptance and as the characteristic of a group, a school, rather than
as an isolated exception here and there, such as Claude or Chardin. The
"point of view" takes the place of conformity to a standard. The painter
expresses himself instead of endeavoring to realize an extraneous and
impersonal ideal. What he himself personally thinks, how he himself
personally feels, is what we read in his works.

It is true that, rightly understood, the romantic epoch is a period of
evolution, and orderly evolution at that, if we look below the surface,
rather than of systematic defiance and revolt. It is true that it recast
rather than repudiated its inheritance of tradition. Nevertheless there
has never been a time when the individual felt himself so free, when
every man of any original genius felt so keenly the exhilaration of
independence, when the "schools" of painting exercised less tyranny
and, indeed, counted for so little. If it be exact to speak of the
"romantic school" at all, it should be borne in mind that its adherents
were men of the most marked and diverse individualities ever grouped
under one standard. The impressionists, perhaps, apart, individuality is
often spoken of as the essential characteristic of the painters of the
present day. But beside the outburst of individuality at the beginning
of the romantic epoch, much of the painting of the present day seems
both monotonous and eccentric--the variation of its essential monotony,
that is to say, being somewhat labored and express in comparison with
the spontaneous multifariousness of the epoch of Delacroix and Decamps.
In the decade between 1820 and 1830, at all events, notwithstanding the
strength of the academic tradition, painting was free from the thraldom
of system, and the imagination of its practitioners was not challenged
and circumscribed by the criticism that is based upon science. Not only
in the painter's freedom in his choice of subject, but in his way of
treating it, in the way in which he "takes it," is the revolution--or,
as I should be inclined to say, rather, the evolution--shown. And as
what we mean by personality is, in general, made up far more of emotion
than of mind--there being room for infinitely more variety in feeling
than in mental processes among intelligent agents--it is natural to
find the French romantic painters giving, by contrast with their
predecessors, such free swing to personal feeling that we may almost sum
up the origin of the romantic movement in French painting in saying that
it was an ebullition of emancipated emotion. And, to go a step farther,
we may say that, as nothing is so essential to poetry as feeling, we
meet now for the first time with the poetic element as an inspiring
motive and controlling force.

The romantic painters were, however, by no means merely emotional. They
were mainly imaginative. And in painting, as in literature, the great
change wrought by romanticism consisted in stimulating the imagination
instead of merely satisfying the sense and the intellect. The main idea
ceased to be as obviously accentuated, and its natural surroundings were
given their natural place; there was less direct statement and more
suggestion; the artist's effort was expended rather upon perfecting the
_ensemble_, noting relations, taking in a larger circle; a suggested
complexity of moral elements took the place of the old simplicity, whose
multifariousness was almost wholly pictorial. Instead of a landscape as
a tapestry background to a Holy Family, and having no pertinence but an
artistic one, we have Corot's "Orpheus."


II

Géricault and Delacroix are the great names inscribed at the head of the
romantic roll. They will remain there. And the distinction is theirs not
as awarded by the historical estimate; it is personal. In the case of
Géricault perhaps one thinks a little of "the man and the moment"
theory. He was, it is true, the first romantic painter--at any rate the
first notable romantic painter. His struggles, his steadfastness, his
success--pathetically posthumous--have given him an honorable eminence.
His example of force and freedom exerted an influence that has been
traced not only in the work of Delacroix, his immediate inheritor, but
in that of the sculptor Rude, and even as far as that of Millet--to all
outward appearance so different in inspiration from that of his own
tumultuous and dramatic genius. And as of late years we look on the
stages of any evolution as less dependent on individuals than we used
to, doubtless just as Luther was confirmed and supported on his way to
the Council at Worms by the people calling on him from the house-tops
not to deny the truth, Géricault was sustained and stimulated in the
face of official obloquy by a more or less considerable æsthetic
movement of which he was really but the leader and exponent. But his
fame is not dependent upon his revolt against the Institute, his
influence upon his successors, or his incarnation of an æsthetic
movement. It rests on his individual accomplishment, his personal value,
the abiding interest of his pictures. "The Raft of the Medusa" will
remain an admirable and moving creation, a masterpiece of dramatic vigor
and vivid characterization, of wide and deep human interest and truly
panoramic grandeur, long after its contemporary interest and historic
importance have ceased to be thought of except by the æsthetic
antiquarian. "The Wounded Cuirassier" and the "Chasseur of the Guard"
are not documents of æsthetic history, but noble expressions of artistic
sapience and personal feeling.

What, I think, is the notable thing about both Géricault and Delacroix,
however, as exponents, as the initiators, of romanticism, is the way in
which they restrained the impetuous temperament they share within the
confines of a truly classic reserve. Closely considered, they are not
the revolutionists they seemed to the official classicism of their day.
Not only do they not base their true claims to enduring fame upon a
spirit of revolt against official and academic art--a spirit essentially
negative and nugatory, and never the inspiration of anything permanently
puissant and attractive--but, compared with their successors of the
present day, in whose works individual preference and predilection seem
to have a swing whose very freedom and irresponsible audacity extort
admiration--compared with the confident temerariousness of what is known
as _modernité_, their self-possession and sobriety seem their most
noteworthy characteristics. Compared with the "Bar at the
Folies-Bergère," either the "Raft of the Medusa" or the "Convulsionists
of Tangiers" is a classic production. And the difference is not at all
due to the forty years' accretion of Protestantism which Manet
represents as compared with the early romanticists. It is due to a
complete difference in attitude. Géricault imbued himself with the
inspiration of the Louvre. Delacroix is said always to have made a
sketch from the old masters or the antique a preliminary to his own
daily work. So far from flaunting tradition, they may be said to have,
in their own view, restored it; so far from posing as apostles of
innovation, they may almost be accused of "harking back"--of steeping
themselves in what to them seemed best and finest and most authoritative
in art, instead of giving a free rein to their own unregulated emotions
and conceptions.

Géricault died early and left but a meagre product. Delacroix is _par
excellence_ the representative of the romantic epoch. And both by the
mass and the quality of his work he forms a true connecting link
between the classic epoch and the modern--in somewhat the same way as
Prudhon does, though more explicitly and on the other side of the line
of division. He represents culture--he knows art as well as he loves
nature. He has a feeling for what is beautiful as well as a knowledge of
what is true. He is pre-eminently and primarily a colorist--he is, in
fact, the introducer of color as a distinct element in French painting
after the pale and bleak reaction from the Louis Quinze decorativeness.
His color, too, is not merely the prismatic coloration of what had
theretofore been mere chiaro-oscuro; it is original and personal to such
a degree that it has never been successfully imitated since his day.
Withal, it is apparently simplicity itself. Its hues are apparently the
primary ones, in the main. It depends upon no subtleties and refinements
of tints for its effectiveness. It is significant that the absorbed and
affected Rossetti did not like it; it is too frank and clear and open,
and shows too little evidence of the morbid brooding and hysterical
forcing of an arbitrary and esoteric note dear to the English
pre-Raphaelites. It attests a delight in color, not a fondness for
certain colors, hues, tints--a difference perfectly appreciable to
either an unsophisticated or an educated sense. It has a solidity and
strength of range and vibration combined with a subtle sensitiveness,
and, as a result of the fusion of the two, a certain splendor that
recalls Saracenic decoration. And with this mastery of color is united a
combined firmness and expressiveness of design that makes Delacroix
unique by emphasizing his truly classic subordination of informing
enthusiasm to a severe and clearly perceived ideal--an ideal in a sense
exterior to his purely personal expression. In a word, his chief
characteristic--and it is a supremely significant trait in the
representative painter of romanticism--is a poetic imagination tempered
and trained by culture and refinement. When his audacities and
enthusiasms are thought of, the directions in his will for his tomb
should be remembered too: "Il n'y sera placé ni emblème, ni buste, ni
statue; mon tombeau sera copié très exactement sur l'antique, ou
Vignoles ou Palladio, avec des saillies très prononcées, contrairement à
tout ce qui se fait aujourd'hui en architecture." "Let there be neither
emblem, bust, nor statue on my tomb, which shall be copied very
scrupulously after the antique, either Vignola or Palladio, with
prominent projections, contrary to everything done to-day in
architecture." In a sense all Delacroix is in these words.


III

Delacroix's color deepens into an almost musical intensity occasionally
in Decamps, whose oriental landscapes and figures, far less important
intellectually, far less _magistrales_ in conception, have at times, one
may say perhaps without being too fanciful, a truly symphonic quality
that renders them unique. "The Suicide" is like a chord on a violin. But
it is when we come to speak of the "Fontainebleau Group," in especial, I
think, that the æsthetic susceptibility characteristic of the latter
half of the nineteenth century feels, to borrow M. Taine's introduction
to his lectures on "The Ideal in Art," that the subject is one only to
be treated in poetry.

Of the noblest of all so-called "schools," Millet is perhaps the most
popular member. His popularity is in great part, certainly, due to his
literary side, to the sentiment which pervades, which drenches, one may
say, all his later work--his work after he had, on overhearing himself
characterized as a painter of naked women, betaken himself to his true
subject, the French peasant. A literary, and a very powerful literary
side, Millet undoubtedly has; and instead of being a weakness in him it
is a power. His sentimental appeal is far from being surplusage, but, as
is not I think popularly appreciated, it is subordinate, and the fact
of its subordination gives it what potency it has. It is idle to deny
this potency, for his portrayal of the French peasant in his varied
aspects has probably been as efficient a characterization as that of
George Sand herself. But, if a moral instead of an æsthetic effect had
been Millet's chief intention, we may be sure that it would have been
made far less incisively than it has been. Compare, for example, his
peasant pictures with those of the almost purely literary painter Jules
Breton, who has evidently chosen his field for its sentimental rather
than its pictorial value, and whose work is, perhaps accordingly, by
contrast with Millet's, noticeably external and superficial even on the
literary side. When Millet ceased to deal in the Correggio manner with
Correggiesque subjects, and devoted himself to the material that was
really native to him, to his own peasant genius--whatever he may have
thought about it himself, he did so because he could treat this material
_pictorially_ with more freedom and less artificiality, with more zest
and enthusiasm, with a deeper sympathy and a more intimate knowledge of
its artistic characteristics, its pictorial potentialities. He is, I
think, as a painter, a shade too much preoccupied with this material, he
is a little too philosophical in regard to it, his pathetic struggle for
existence exaggerated his sentimental affiliations with it somewhat, he
made it too exclusively his subject, perhaps. We gain, it may be, at his
expense. With his artistic gifts he might have been more fortunate, had
his range been broader. But in the main it is his pictorial handling of
this material, with which he was in such acute sympathy, that
distinguishes his work, and that will preserve its fame long after its
humanitarian and sentimental appeal has ceased to be as potent as it now
is--at the same time that it has itself enforced this appeal in the
subordinating manner I have suggested. When he was asked his intention,
in his picture of a maimed calf borne away on a litter by two men, he
said it was simply to indicate the sense of weight in the muscular
movement and attitude of the bearers' arms.

His great distinction, in fine, is artistic. His early painting of
conventional subjects is not without significance in its witness to the
quality of his talent. Another may paint French peasants all his life
and never make them permanently interesting, because he has not Millet's
admirable instinct and equipment as a painter. He is a superb colorist,
at times--always an enthusiastic one; there is something almost
unregulated in his delight in color, in his fondness for glowing and
resplendent tone. No one gets farther away from the academic grayness,
the colorless chiaro-oscuro of the conventional painters. He runs his
key up and loads his canvas, occasionally, in what one may call not so
much barbaric as uncultivated and elementary fashion. He cares so much
for color that sometimes, when his effect is intended to be purely
atmospheric, as in the "Angélus," he misses its justness and fitness,
and so, in insisting on color, obtains from the color point of view
itself an infelicitous--a colored--result. Occasionally he bathes a
scene in yellow mist that obscures all accentuations and play of values.
But always his feeling for color betrays him a painter rather than a
moralist. And in composition he is, I should say, even more
distinguished. His composition is almost always distinctly elegant. Even
in so simple a scheme as that of "The Sower," the lines are as fine as
those of a Raphael. And the way in which balance is preserved, masses
are distributed, and an organic play of parts related to each other and
each to the sum of them is secured, is in all of his large works so
salient an element of their admirable excellence, that, to those who
appreciate it, the dependence of his popularity upon the sentimental
suggestion of the raw material with which he dealt seems almost
grotesque. In his line and mass and the relations of these in
composition, there is a severity, a restraint, a conformity to
tradition, however personally felt and individually modified, that
evince a strong classic strain in this most unacademic of painters.
Millet was certainly an original genius, if there ever was one. In spite
of, and in open hostility to, the popular and conventional painting of
his day, he followed his own bent and went his own way. Better, perhaps,
than any other painter, he represents absolute emancipation from the
prescribed, from routine and formulary. But it would be a signal mistake
to fail to see, in the most characteristic works of this most personal
representative of romanticism, that subordination of the individual whim
and isolated point of view to what is accepted, proven, and universal,
which is essentially what we mean by the classic attitude. One may
almost go so far as to say, considering its reserve, its restraint and
poise, its sobriety and measure, its quiet and composure, its
subordination of individual feeling to a high sense of artistic decorum,
that, romantic as it is, unacademic as it is, its most incontestable
claim to permanence is the truly classic spirit which, however modified,
inspires and infiltrates it. Beside some of the later manifestations of
individual genius in French painting, it is almost academic.

In Corot, anyone, I suppose, can see this note, and it would be
surplusage to insist upon it. He is the ideal classic-romantic painter,
both in temperament and in practice. Millet's subject, not, I think, his
treatment--possibly his wider range--makes him seem more deeply serious
than Corot, but he is not essentially as nearly unique. He is unrivalled
in his way, but Corot is unparalleled. Corot inherits the tradition of
Claude; his motive, like Claude's, is always an effect, and, like
Claude's, his means are light and air. But his effect is a shade more
impalpable, and his means are at once simpler and more subtle. He gets
farther away from the phenomena which are the elements of his
_ensemble_, farther than Claude, farther than anyone. His touch is as
light as the zephyr that stirs the diaphanous drapery of his trees.
Beside it Claude's has a suspicion, at least, of unctuousness. It has a
pure, crisp, vibrant accent, quite without analogue in the technic of
landscape painting. Taking technic in its widest sense, one may speak of
Corot's shortcomings--not, I think, of his failures. It would be
difficult to mention a modern painter more uniformly successful in
attaining his aim, in expressing what he wishes to express, in conveying
his impression, communicating his sensations.

That a painter of his power, a man of the very first rank, should have
been content--even placidly content--to exercise it within a range by no
means narrow, but plainly circumscribed, is certainly witness
of limitation. "Delacroix is an eagle, I am only a skylark," he remarked
once, with his characteristic cheeriness. His range is not, it is true,
as circumscribed as is generally supposed outside of France. Outside of
France his figure-painting, for example, is almost unknown. We see
chiefly variations of his green and gray arbored pastoral--now idyllic,
now heroic, now full of freshness, the skylark quality, now of grave and
deep harmonies and wild, sweet notes of transitory suggestion. Of his
figures we only know those shifting shapes that blend in such classic
and charming manner with the glades and groves of his landscapes. Of his
"Hagar in the Wilderness," his "St. Jerome," his "Flight into Egypt,"
his "Democritus," his "Baptism of Christ," with its nine life-size
figures, who, outside of France, has even heard? How many foreigners
know that he painted what are called architectural subjects
delightfully, and even _genre_ with zest?

But compared with his landscape, in which he is unique, it is plain that
he excels nowhere else. The splendid display of his works in the
Centenaire Exposition of the great World's Fair of 1889, was a
revelation of his range of interest rather than of his range of power.
It was impossible not to perceive that, surprising as were his essays in
other fields to those who only knew him as a landscape painter, he was
essentially and integrally a painter of landscape, though a painter of
landscape who had taken his subject in a way and treated it in a manner
so personal as to be really unparalleled. Outside of landscape his
interest was clearly not real. In his other works one notes a certain
_débonnaire_ irresponsibility. He pursued nothing seriously but
out-of-doors, its vaporous atmosphere, its crisp twigs and graceful
branches, its misty distances and piquant accents, what Thoreau calls
its inaudible panting. His true theme, lightly as he took it, absorbed
him; and no one of any sensitiveness can ever regret it. His powers,
following the indication of his true temperament, his most genuine
inspiration, are concentrated upon the very finest thing imaginable in
landscape painting; as, indeed, to produce as they have done the finest
landscape in the history of art, they must have been.

There are, however, two things worth noting in Corot's landscape, beyond
the mere fact that, better even than Rousseau, he expresses the essence
of landscape, dwells habitually among its inspirations, and is its
master rather than its servant. One is the way in which he poetizes, so
to speak, the simplest stretches of sward and clumps of trees, and long
clear vistas across still ponds, with distances whose accents are
pricked out with white houses and yellow cows and placid fishers and
ferrymen in red caps, seen in glimpses through curtains of sparse,
feathery leafage--or peoples woodland openings with nymphs and fawns,
silhouetted against the sunset glow, or dancing in the cool gray of
dusk. A man of no reading, having only the elements of an education in
the general sense of the term, his instinctive sense for what is refined
was so delicate that we may say of his landscapes that, had the Greeks
left any they would have been like Corot's. And this classic and
cultivated effect he secured not at all, or only very incidentally,
through the force of association, by dotting his hillsides and vaporous
distances with bits of classic architecture, or by summing up his
feeling for the Dawn in a graceful figure of Orpheus greeting with
extended gesture the growing daylight, but by a subtle interpenetration
of sensuousness and severity resulting in precisely the sentiment fitly
characterized by the epithet classic. The other trait peculiar to
Corot's representation of nature and expression of himself is his color.
No painter ever exhibited, I think, quite such a sense of refinement in
so narrow a gamut. Green and gray, of course, predominate and set the
key, but he has an interestingly varied palette on the hither side of
splendor whose subtleties are capable of giving exquisite pleasure.
Never did anyone use tints with such positive force. Tints with Corot
have the vigor and vibration of positive colors--his lilacs, violets,
straw-colored hues, his almost Quakerish coquetry with drabs and slates
and pure clear browns, the freshness and bloom he imparted to his tones,
the sweet and shrinking wild flowers with which as a spray he sprinkled
his humid dells and brook margins. But Corot's true distinction--what
gives him his unique position at the very head of landscape art, is
neither his color, delicate and interesting as his color is, nor his
classic serenity harmonizing with, instead of depending upon, the chance
associations of architecture and mythology with which now and then he
decorates his landscapes; it is the blithe, the airy, the truly
spiritual way in which he gets farther away than anyone from both the
actual pigment that is his instrument, and from the phenomena that are
the objects of his expression--his ethereality, in a word. He has
communicated his sentiment almost without material, one may say, so
ethereally independent of their actual analogues is the interest of his
trees and sky and stretch of sward. This sentiment, thus mysteriously
triumphant over color or form, or other sensuous charm, which
nevertheless are only subtly subordinated, and by no manner of means
treated lightly or inadequately, is as exalted as any that has in our
day been expressed in any manner. Indeed, where, outside of the very
highest poetry of the century, can one get the same sense of elation, of
aspiring delight, of joy unmixed with regret--since "the splendor of
truth" which Plato defined beauty to be, is more animating and consoling
than the "weary weight of all this unintelligible world," is depressing
to a spirit of lofty seriousness and sanity?

       *       *       *       *       *

Dupré and Diaz are the decorative painters of the Fontainebleau group.
They are, of modern painters, perhaps the nearest in spirit to the old
masters, pictorially speaking. They are rarely in the grand style,
though sometimes Dupré is restrained enough to emulate if not to achieve
its sobriety. But they have the _bel air_, and belong to the aristocracy
of the painting world. Diaz, especially, has almost invariably the
patrician touch. It lacks the exquisiteness of Monticelli's, in which
there is that curiously elevated detachment from the material and the
real that the Italians--and the Provençal painter's inspiration and
method, as well as his name and lineage, suggest an Italian rather than
a French association--exhibit far oftener than the French. But Diaz has
a larger sweep, a saner method. He is never eccentric, and he has a
dignity that is Iberian, though he is French rather than Spanish on his
æsthetic side, and at times is as conservative as Rousseau--without,
however, reaching Rousseau's lofty simplicity except in an occasional
happy stroke. Both he and Dupré are primarily colorists. Dupré sees
nature through a prism. Diaz's groups of dames and gallants have a
jewel-like aspect; they leave the same impression as a tangle of
ribbons, a bunch of exotic flowers, a heap of gems flung together with
the felicity of haphazard. In general, and when they are in most
completely characteristic mood, it is not the sentiment of nature that
one gets from the work of either painter. It is not even _their_
sentiment of nature--the emotion aroused in their susceptibilities by
natural phenomena. What one gets is their personal feeling for color and
design--their decorative quality, in a word.

The decorative painter is he to whom what is called "subject," even in
its least restricted sense and with its least substantial suggestions,
is comparatively indifferent. Nature supplies him with objects; she is
not in any intimate degree his subject. She is the medium through which,
rather than the material of which, he creates his effects. It is her
potentialities of color and design that he seeks, or at any rate, of all
her infinitely numerous traits, it is her hues and arabesques that
strike him most forcibly. He is incurious as to her secrets and calls
upon her aid to interpret his own, but he is so independent of her, if
he be a decorative painter of the first rank--a Diaz or a Dupré--that
his rendering of her, his picture, would have an agreeable effect, owing
to its design or color or both, if it were turned upside down.
Decorative painting in this sense may easily be carried so far as to
seem incongruous and inept, in spite of its superficial attractiveness.
The peril that threatens it is whim and freak. Some of Monticelli's,
some of Matthew Maris's pictures, illustrate the exaggeration of the
decorative impulse. After all, a painter must get his effect, whatever
it be and however it may shun the literal and the exact, by rendering
things with pigments. And some of the decorative painters only escape
things by obtruding pigments, just as the _trompe-l'oeil_ or optical
illusion painters get away from pigments by obtruding things. It is the
distinction of Diaz and Dupré that they avoid this danger in most
triumphant fashion. On the contrary, they help one to see the decorative
element in nature, in "things," to a degree hardly attained elsewhere
since the days of the great Venetians. Their predilection for the
decorative element is held in leash by the classic tradition, with its
reserve, its measure, its inculcation of sobriety and its sense of
security. Dupré paints Seine sunsets and the edge of the forest at
Fontainebleau, its "long mysterious reaches fed with moonlight," in a
way that conveys the golden glow, the silvery gleam, the suave outline
of spreading leafage, and the massive density of mysterious boscage with
the force of an almost abstract acuteness. Does nature look like this?
Who knows? But in this semblance, surely, she appeared to Dupré's
imagination. And doubtless Diaz saw the mother-of-pearl tints in the
complexion of his models, and is not to be accused of artificiality,
but to be credited with a true sincerity of selection in juxtaposing his
soft corals and carnations and gleaming topaz, amethyst, and sapphire
hues. The most exacting literalist can hardly accuse them of solecism in
their rendering of nature, true as it is that their decorative sense is
so strong as to lead them to impose on nature their own sentiment
instead of yielding themselves to absorption in _hers_, and thus, in
harmonious and sympathetic concert with her, like Claude and Corot,
Rousseau and Daubigny, interpreting her subtle and supreme significance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rousseau carried the fundamental principle of the school farther than
the others--with him interest, delight in, enthusiasm for nature became
absorption in her. Whereas other men have loved nature, it has been
acutely remarked, Rousseau was in love with her. It was felicitously of
him, rather than of Dupré or Corot, that the naif peasant inquired, "Why
do you paint the tree; the tree is there, is it not?" And never did
nature more royally reward allegiance to her than in the sustenance and
inspiration she furnished for Rousseau's genius. You feel the point of
view in his picture, but it is apparently that of nature herself as well
as his own. It is not the less personal for this. On the contrary, it
is extremely personal, and few pictures are as individual, as
characteristic. Occasionally Diaz approaches him, as I have said, but
only in the very happiest and exceptional moments, when the dignity of
nature as well as her charm seems specially to impress and impose itself
upon the less serious painter. But Rousseau's selection seems
instinctive and not sought out. He knows the secret of nature's
pictorial element. He is at one with her, adopts her suggestions so
cordially and works them out with such intimate sympathy and
harmoniousness, that the two forces seem reciprocally to reinforce each
other, and the result gains many fold in power from their subtle
co-operation. His landscapes have in this way a Wordsworthian
directness, simplicity, and severity. They are not troubled and dramatic
like Turner's. They are not decorative like Dupré's, they have not the
solemn sentiment of Daubigny's, or the airy aspiration and fairy-like
blitheness of Corot's. But there is in them "all breathing human
passion;" and at times, as in "Le Givre," they rise to majesty and real
grandeur because they are impregnated with the sentiment, as well as are
records of the phenomena, of nature, and one may say of Rousseau,
paraphrasing Mr. Arnold's remark about Wordsworth, that nature seems
herself to take the brush out of his hand and to paint for him "with her
own bare, sheer, penetrating power." Rousseau, however, is French, and
in virtue of his nativity exhibits always what Wordsworth's treatment of
nature exhibits only occasionally, namely, the Gallic gift of style. It
is rarely as felicitous as in Corot, in every detail of whose every
work, one may almost say, its informing, co-ordinating, elevating
influence is distinctly to be perceived; but it is always present as a
factor, as a force dignifying and relieving from all touch, all taint of
the commonness that is so often inseparably associated with art whose
absorption in nature is listlessly unthinking instead of enthusiastic
and alert. In Rousseau, too, in a word, we have the classic strain, as
at least a psychological element, and note as one source of his power
his reserve and restraint, his perfect self-possession.

In Daubigny a similar attitude toward nature is obvious, but with a
sensible difference. Affection for, rather than absorption in her, is
his inspiration. Daubigny stands somewhat apart from the Fontainebleau
group, with whom nevertheless he is popularly and properly associated,
for though he painted Normandy mainly, he was spiritually of the
Barbizon kindred. He stands, however, somewhat apart from French
painting in general, I think. There is less style, more sentiment, more
poetry in his landscapes than in those of his countrymen who are to be
compared with him. Beyond what is admirable in them there is something
attaching as well. He drew and engraved a good deal, as well as painted.
He did not concentrate his powers enough, perhaps, to make as signal and
definite a mark as otherwise he might have done. He is a shade
desultory, and too spontaneous to be systematic. One must be systematic
to reach the highest point, even in the least material spheres. But
never have the grave and solemn aspects of landscape found a sweeter and
serener spirit to interpret them. In some of his pictures there is a
truly religious feeling. His frankness recalls Constable's, but it is
more distinguished in being more spiritual. He has not Diaz's elegance,
nor Corot's witchery, nor Rousseau's power, but nature is more
mysteriously, more mystically significant to him, and sets a deeper
chord vibrating within him. He is a sensitive instrument on which she
plays, rather than a magician who wins her secrets, or an observer whose
generalizing imagination she sets in motion. The design of some of his
important works, notably that of his last _Salon_ picture, is very
distinguished, and in one of his large canvases representing a road like
that from Barbizon through the level plain to Chailly, there is the
spirit and sentiment of all the summer evenings that ever were. But he
has distinctly less power than the strict Fontainebleau group. He has,
in force, less affinity with them than Troyon has, whose force is often
magnificent, and whose landscape is so sweet, often, and often so strong
as well, that one wonders a little at his fondness for cattle--in spite
of the way in which he justifies it by being the first of cattle
painters. And neither Daubigny nor Troyon, nor, indeed, Rousseau
himself, often reaches in dramatic grandeur the lofty landscape of
Michel, who, with Paul Huet (the latter in a more strictly historical
sense) were so truly the forerunners and initiators of the romantic
landscape movement, both in sentiment and chronology, in spite of their
Dutch tradition, as to make the common ascription of its debt to
Constable, whose aid was so cordially welcomed in the famous Salon of
1824, a little strained.


IV

But quite aside from the group of poetic painters which stamped its
impress so deeply upon the romantic movement at the outset, that to this
day it is Delacroix and Millet, Decamps and Corot whom we think of when
we think of the movement itself, the classic tradition was preserved all
through the period of greatest stress and least conformity by painters
of great distinction, who, working under the romantic inspiration and
more or less according to what may be called romantic methods,
nevertheless possessed the classic temperament in so eminent a degree
that to us their work seems hardly less academic than that of the
Revolution and the Empire. Not only Ingres, but Delaroche and Ary
Scheffer, painted beside Géricault and Delacroix. Ary Scheffer was an
eloquent partisan of romanticism, yet his "Dante and Beatrice" and his
"Temptation of Christ" are admirable only from the academic point of
view. Delaroche's "Hemicycle" and his many historical tableaux are
surely in the classic vein, however free they may seem in subject and
treatment by contrast with the works of David and Ingres. They leave us
equally cold, at all events, and in the same way--for the same reason.
They betray the painter's preoccupation with art rather than with
nature. They do, in truth, differ widely from the works which they
succeeded, but the difference is not temperamental. They suggest the
French phrase, _plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose_. Gérôme, for
example, feels the exhilaration of the free air of romanticism fanning
his enthusiasm. He does not confine himself, as, born a decade or two
earlier, certainly he would have done, to classic subject. He follows
Decamps and Marilhat to the Orient, which he paints with the utmost
freedom, so far as the choice of theme is concerned--descending even to
the _danse du ventre_ of a Turkish café. He paints historical pictures
with a realism unknown before his day. He is almost equally famous in
the higher class of _genre_ subjects. But throughout everything he does
it is easy to perceive the academic point of view, the classic
temperament. David assuredly would never have chosen one of Gérôme's
themes; but had he chosen it, he would have treated it in much the same
way. Allowance made for the difference in time, in general feeling of
the æsthetic environment, the change in ideas as to what was fit subject
for representation and fitting manner of treating the same subject, it
is hardly an exaggeration to say that Ingres would have sincerely
applauded Gérôme's "Cleopatra" issuing from the carpet roll before
Cæsar. And if he failed to perceive the noble dramatic power in such a
work as the "Ave, Cæsar, morituri te salutant," his failure would
nowadays, at least among intelligent amateurs, be ascribed to an
intolerance which it is one of the chief merits of the romantic movement
to have adjudged absurd.

It is a source of really æsthetic satisfaction to see everything that is
attempted as well done as it is in the works of such painters as
Bouguereau and Cabanel. Of course the feeling that denies them large
importance is a legitimate one. The very excellence of their technic,
its perfect adaptedness to the motive it expresses, is, considering the
insignificance of the motive, subject for criticism; inevitably it
partakes of the futility of its subject-matter. Of course the personal
value of the man, the mind, behind any plastic expression is, in a
sense, the measure of the expression itself. If it be a mind interested
in "pouncet-box" covers, in the pictorial setting forth of themes whose
illustration most intimately appeals to the less cultivated and more
rudimentary appreciation of fine art--as indisputably the Madonnas and
Charities and Oresteses and Bacchus Triumphs of M. Bouguereau do--one
may very well dispense himself from the duty of admiring its
productions. Life is short, and more important things, things of more
significant import, demand attention. The grounds on which the works of
Bouguereau and Cabanel are admired are certainly insufficient. But they
are experts in their sphere. What they do could hardly be better done.
If they appeal to a _bourgeois_, a philistine ideal of beauty, of
interest, they do it with a perfection that is pleasing in itself. No
one else does it half so well. To minds to which they appeal at all,
they appeal with the force of finality; for these they create as well as
illustrate the type of what is admirable and lovely. It is as easy to
account for their popularity as it is to perceive its transitory
quality. But not only is it a mark of limitation to refuse all interest
to such a work as, for example, M. Cabanel's "Birth of Venus," in the
painting of which a vast deal of technical expertness is enjoyably
evident, and which in every respect of motive and execution is far above
similar things done elsewhere than in France; it is a still greater
error to confound such painters as M. Cabanel and M. Bouguereau with
other painters whose classic temperament has been subjected to the
universal romantic influence equally with theirs, but whose production
is as different from theirs as is that of the thorough and pure
romanticists, the truly poetic painters.

The instinct of simplification is an intelligent and sound one. Its
satisfaction is a necessary preliminary to efficient action of any kind,
and indeed the basis of all fruitful philosophy. But in criticism this
instinct can only be satisfied intelligently and soundly by a
consideration of everything appealing to consideration, and not at all
by heated and wilful, or superior and supercilious, exclusions.
Catholicity of appreciation is the secret of critical felicity. To
follow the line of least resistance, not to take into account those
elements of a problem, those characteristics of a subject, to which,
superficially and at first thought, one is insensitive, is to dispense
one's self from a great deal of particularly disagreeable industry, but
the result is only transitorily agreeable to the sincere intelligence.
It is in criticism, I think, though no doubt in criticism alone,
preferable to lose one's self in a maze of perplexity--distressing as
this is to the critic who appreciates the indispensability of
clairvoyance in criticism--rather than to reach swiftly and simply a
conclusion which candor would have foreseen as the inevitable and
unjudicial result of following one's own likes and whims, and one's
contentment with which must be alloyed with a haunting sense of
insecurity. In criticism it is perhaps better to keep balancing
counter-considerations than to determine brutally by excluding a whole
set of them because of the difficulty of assigning them their true
weight. In this way, at least, one preserves the attitude of poise, and
poise is perhaps the one essential element of criticism. In a word, that
catholicity of sensitiveness which may be called mere impressionism,
behind which there is no body of doctrine at all, is more truly critical
than intolerant depreciation or unreflecting enthusiasm. "The main thing
to do," says Mr. Arnold, in a significant passage, "is to get one's self
out of the way and let humanity judge."

It is temptingly simple to deny all importance to painters who are not
poetic painters. And the temptation is especially seductive when the
prosaic painters are paralleled by such a distinguished succession of
their truly poetic brethren as are the painters of the romantic epoch
who are possessed of the classic temperament. But real criticism
immediately suggests that prose has its place in painting as in
literature. In literature we do not insist even that the poets be
poetic. Poetic is not the epithet that would be applied, for instance,
to French classic verse or the English verse of the eighteenth century,
compared with the poetry, French or English, which we mean when we speak
of poetry. Yet no one would think of denying the value of Dryden or even
of Boileau. No one would even insist that, distinctly prosaic as are the
qualities of Boileau--and I should say his was a crucial instance--he
would have done better to abjure verse. And painting, in a wide sense,
is just as legitimately the expression of ideas in form and color as
literature is the expression of ideas in words. It is perfectly plain
that Meissonier was not especially enamoured of beauty, as Corot, as
Troyon, as Decamps was. But nothing could be less critical than to deny
Meissouier's importance and the legitimate interest he has for every
educated and intelligent person, in spite of his literalness and his
insensitiveness to the element of beauty, and indeed to any truly
pictorial significance whatever in the wide range of subjects that he
essayed, with, in an honorable sense, such distinguished success.

Especially in America, I think, where of recent years we have shown an
Athenian sensitiveness to new impressions, the direct descendants of the
classic period of French painting have suffered from the popularity of
the Fontainebleau group. Their legitimate attachment to art, instead of
the Fontainebleau absorption in nature, has given them a false
reputation of artificiality. But the prose element in art has its
justification as well as the poetic, and it is witness of a narrow
culture to fail in appreciation of its admirable accomplishment. The
academic wing of the French romantic painting is marked precisely by a
breadth of culture that is itself a source of agreeable and elevated
interest. The neo-Grec painters are thoroughly educated. They lack the
picturesque and unexpected note of their poetic brethren--they lack the
moving and interpreting, the elevating and exquisite touch of these;
nay, they lack the penetrating distinction that radiates even from
rusticity itself when it is inspired and transfigured as it appears in
such works as those of Millet and Rousseau. But their distinction is not
less real for being the distinction of cultivation rather than
altogether native and absolute. It is perhaps even more marked, more
pervasive, more directly associated with the painter's aim and effect.
One feels that they are familiar with the philosophy of art, its history
and practice, that they are articulate and eclectic, that for being less
personal and powerful their horizon is less limited, their purely
intellectual range, at all events, and in many cases their æsthetic
interest, wider. They have more the cultivated man's bent for
experimentation, for variety. They care more scrupulously for
perfection, for form. With a far inferior sense of reality and far less
felicity in dealing with it, their sapient skill in dealing with the
abstractions of art is more salient. To be blind to their successful
handling of line and mass and movement, is to neglect a source of
refined pleasure. To lament their lack of poetry is to miss their
admirable rhetoric; to regret their imperfect feeling for decorativeness
is to miss their delightful decorum.


V

As one has, however, so often occasion to note in France--where in every
field of intellectual effort the influence of schools and groups and
movements is so great that almost every individuality, no matter how
strenuous, falls naturally and intimately into association with some one
of them--there is every now and then an exception that escapes these
categories and stands quite by itself. In modern painting such
exceptions, and widely different from each other as the poles, are
Couture and Puvis de Chavannes. Better than in either the true
romanticists with the classic strain, or the academic romanticists with
the classic temperament, the blending of the classic and romantic
inspirations is illustrated in Couture. The two are in him, indeed,
actually fused. In Puvis de Chavannes they appear in a wholly novel
combination; his classicism is absolutely unacademic, his romanticism
unreal beyond the verge of mysticism, and so preoccupied with visions
that he may almost be called a man for whom the actual world does _not_
exist--in the converse of Gautier's phrase. His distinction is wholly
personal. He lives evidently on an exceedingly high plane--dwells
habitually in the delectable uplands of the intellect. The fact that his
work is almost wholly decorative is not at all accidental. His talent,
his genius if one chooses, requires large spaces, vast dimensions. There
has been a great deal of rather profitless discussion as to whether he
expressly imitates the _primitifs_ or reproduces them sympathetically.
But really he does neither; he deals with their subjects occasionally,
but always in a completely modern, as well as a thoroughly personal,
way. His color is as original as his general treatment and composition.
He had no schooling, in the École des Beaux Arts sense. A brief period
in Henri Scheffer's studio, three months under Couture, after he had
begun life in an altogether different field of effort, yielded him all
the explicit instruction he ever had. His real study was done in Italy,
in the presence of the old masters of Florence. With this equipment he
revolutionized modern decoration, established, at any rate, a new
convention for it. His convention is a little definite, a little bald.
One may discuss it apart from his own handling of it, even. It is a
shade too express, too confident, too little careless both of tradition
and of the typical qualities that secure permanence. In other hands one
can easily imagine how insipid it might become. It has too little body,
its scheme is too timorous, too vaporous to be handled by another. Puvis
de Chavannes will probably have few successful imitators. But one must
immediately add that if he does not found a school, his own work is,
perhaps for that reason, at all events in spite of it, among the most
important of the day. Quite unperturbed by current discussions, which
are certainly of the noisiest by which the current of artistic
development was ever deflected, he has kept on his way, and has finally
won all suffrages for an æsthetic expression that is really antagonistic
to the general æsthetic spirit of his time.

Puvis de Chavannes is, perhaps, the most interesting figure in French
painting to-day. Couture is little more than a name. It is curious to
consider why. Twenty years ago he was still an important figure. He had
been an unusually successful teacher. Many American painters of
distinction, especially, were at one time his pupils--Hunt, La Farge,
George Butler. He theorized as much, as well--perhaps even better
than--he painted. His "Entretiens d'atelier" are as good in their way as
his "Baptism of the Prince Imperial." He had a very distinguished
talent, but he was too distinctly clever--clever to the point of
sophistication. In this respect he was distinctly a man of the
nineteenth century. His great work, "Romains de la Décadence," created
as fine an effect at the Centenary Exhibition of the Paris World's Fair
in 1889 as it does in the Louvre, whence it was then transferred, but it
was distinctly a decorative effect--the effect of a fine panel in the
general mass of color and design; it made a fine centre. It remains his
greatest performance, the performance upon which chiefly his fame will
depend, though as painting it lacks the quality and breadth of "Le
Fauconnier," perhaps the most interesting of his works to painters
themselves, and of the "Day-Dreams" of the New York Metropolitan Museum
of Art. Its permanent interest perhaps will be the historical one, due
to the definiteness with which it assigns Couture his position in the
evolution of French painting. It shows, as everything of Couture shows,
the absence of any pictorial feeling so profound and personal as to make
an impression strong enough to endure indefinitely. And it has not, on
the other hand, the interest of reality--that faithful and enthusiastic
rendering of the external world which gives importance to and fixes the
character of the French painting of the present day.

Had Regnault lived, he would have more adequately--or should I say more
plausibly?--marked the transition from romanticism to realism.
Temperamentally he was clearly a thorough romanticist--far more so, for
instance, than his friend Fortuny, whose intellectual reserve is always
conspicuous. He essayed the most vehement kind of subjects, even in the
classical field, where he treated them with truly romantic truculence.
He was himself always, moreover, and ideally cared as little for nature
as a fairy-story teller. In this sense he was more romantic than the
romanticists. His "Automedon," his portrait of General Prim, even his
"Salome," are wilful in a degree that is either superb or superficial,
as one looks at them; but at any rate they are romantic _à outrance_. At
the same time it was unmistakably the aspect of things rather than their
significance, rather than his view of them, that appealed to him. He was
farther away from the classic inspiration than any other romanticist of
his fellows; and at the same time he cared for the external world more
on its own account and less for its suggestions, than any painter of
equal force before Courbet and Bastien-Lepage. The very fact that he was
not, intellectually speaking, wholly _dans son assiette_, as the French
say, shows that he was a genius of a transitional moment. One's final
thought of him is that he died young, and one thinks so not so much
because of the dramatic tragedy of his taking off by possibly the last
Prussian bullet fired in the war of 1870-71, as because of the
essentially experimental character of his painting. Undoubtedly he would
have done great things. And undoubtedly they would have been different
from those that he did; probably in the direction--already indicated in
his most dignified performance--of giving more consistency, more vivid
definiteness, more reality, even, to his already striking conceptions.



III


REALISTIC PAINTING


I

To an intelligence fully and acutely alive, its own time must, I think,
be more interesting than any other. The sentimental, the scholastic, the
speculative temperament may look before or after with longing or regret;
but that sanity of mind which is practical and productive must find its
most agreeable sensations in the data to which it is intimately and
inexorably related. The light upon Greek literature and art for which we
study Greek history, the light upon Roman history for which we study
Latin literature and art, are admirable to us in very exact proportion
as we study them for our ends. To every man and every nation that really
breathes, true vitality of soul depends upon saying to one's self, with
an emotion of equivalent intensity to the emotion of patriotism
celebrated in Scott's familiar lines, This is my own, my native era and
environment. Culture is impossible apart from cosmopolitanism, but
self-respect is more indispensable even than culture. French art alone
at the present time possesses absolute self-respect. It possesses this
quality in an eminent, in even an excessive degree; but it possesses it,
and in virtue of it is endued with a preservative quality that saves it
from the emptiness of imitation and the enervation of dilettantism. It
has, in consequence, escaped that recrudescence of the primitive and
inchoate known in England and among ourselves as pre-Raphaelitism. It
has escaped also that almost abject worship of classic models which
Winckelmann and Canova made universal in Germany and Italy--not to speak
of its echoes elsewhere. It has always stood on its own feet, and,
however lacking in the higher qualities of imaginative initiative, on
the one hand, and however addicted to the academic and the traditional
on the other, has always both respected its æsthetic heritage and
contributed something of its own thereto.

Why should not one feel the same quick interest, the same instinctive
pride in his time as in his country? Is not sympathy with what is
modern, instant, actual, and apposite a fair parallel of patriotism?
Neglect of other times in the "heir of all the ages" is analogous to
chauvinism, and indicative of as ill-judged an attitude as that of
provincial blindness to other contemporary points of view and systems of
philosophy than one's own. Culture is equally hostile to both, and in
art culture is as important a factor as it is in less special fields of
activity and endeavor. But in art, as elsewhere, culture is a means to
an actual, present end, and the pre-Raphaelite sentiment that dictates
mere reproduction of what was once a genuine expression is as sterile as
servile imitation of exotic modes of thought, dress, and demeanor is
universally felt to be. The past--the antique, the renaissance, the
classic, and romantic ideals are to be used, not adopted; in the spirit
of Goethe, at once the most original of modern men and the most
saturated with culture, exhibited in his famous saying: "Nothing do I
call my own which having inherited I have not reconquered for myself."

It would indeed be a singular thing were the field of æsthetics the only
one uninvaded by the scientific spirit of the time. The one force
especially characteristic of our era is, I suppose, the scientific
spirit. It is at any rate everywhere manifest, and it possesses the best
intellects of the century. _A priori_ one may argue about its hostility,
essential or other, to the artistic, the constructive spirit; but to do
so is at the most to beat the air, to waste one's breath, to Ruskinize,
in a word. Interest in life and the world, instead of speculation or
self-expression, is the "note" of the day. The individual has withered
terribly. He is supplanted by the type. Materialism has its positive
gospel; it is not at all the formulated expression of Goethe's "spirit
that denies." Nature has acquired new dignity. She cannot be studied too
closely, nor too long. The secret of the universe is now pursued through
observation, as formerly it was through fasting and prayer. Nothing is
sacred nowadays because everything receives respect. If absolute beauty
is now smiled at as a chimera, it is because beauty is perceived
everywhere. Whatever is may not be right--the maxim has too much of an
_ex cathedra_ sound--but whatever is is interesting. Our attitude is at
once humbler and more curious. The sense of the immensity, the
immeasurableness of things, is more intimate and profound. What one may
do is more modestly conceived; what might be done, more justly
appreciated. There is less confidence and more aspiration. The artist's
eye is "on the object" in more concentrated gaze than ever heretofore.
If his sentiment, his poetry, is no longer "inevitable," as Wordsworth
complained Goethe's was not, it is more reverent, at any rate more
circumspect. If he is less exalted he is more receptive--he is more
alive to impressions for being less of a philosopher. If he scouts
authority, if even he accepts somewhat weakly the thraldom of dissent
from traditional standards and canons, it is because he is convinced
that the material with which he has to deal is superior to all canons
and standards. If he esteems truth more than beauty, it is because what
he thinks truth is more beautiful in his eyes than the stereotyped
beauty he is adjured to attain. In any case, the distinction of the
realistic painters--like that of the realists in literature, where,
also, it need not be said, France has been in the lead--is measurably to
have got rid of solecisms; to have made, indeed, obvious solecisms, and
solecisms of conception as well as of execution, a little ridiculous. It
is, to be sure, equally ridiculous to subject romantic productions to
realistic standards, to blind one's self to the sentiment that saturates
such romantic works as Scott's and Dumas's, or Géricault's and Diaz's,
and is wholly apposite to its own time and point of view. The great
difficulty with a principle is that it is universal, and that when we
deal with facts of any kind whatever, universality is an impossible
ideal. Scott and Géricault are, nowadays, in what we have come to deem
essentials, distinctly old-fashioned. It might be well to try and
imitate them, if imitation had any salt in it, which it has not; or if
it were possible to do what they did with their different inspiration,
which it is not. Mr. Stevenson is, I think, an example of the danger of
essaying this latter in literature, just as a dozen eminent painters of
less talent--for no one has so much talent as Mr. Stevenson--are
examples in painting. But there are a thousand things, not only in the
technic of the romanticists but in their whole attitude toward their art
and their material, that are nowadays impossible to sincere and
spontaneous artists. Details which have no importance whatever in the
_ensemble_ of the romantic artist are essential to the realist. Art does
not stand still. Its canons change. There is a constant evolution in its
standards, its requirements. A conventional background is no more an
error in French classic painting than in tapestry; a perfunctory scheme
of pure chiaro-oscuro is no blemish in one of Diaz's splendid forest
landscapes; such phenomena in a work of Raffaelli or Pointelin would
jar, because, measured by the standards to which modern men must,
through the very force of evolution itself, subscribe, they can but
appear solecisms. In a different set of circumstances, under a different
inspiration, and with a different artistic attitude, solecisms they
certainly are not. But, as Thackeray makes Ethel Newcome say, "We belong
to our belongings." Our circumstances, inspiration, artistic attitude,
are involuntary and possess us as our other belongings do.

In Gautier's saying, for instance, "I am a man for whom the visible
world exists," which I have quoted as expressing the key-note of the
romantic epoch, it is to be noted that the visible world is taken as a
spectacle simply--significant, suggestive or merely stimulant, in
accordance with individual bent. Gautier and the romanticists generally
had little concern for its structure. To many of them it was indeed
rather a canvas than a spectacle even--just as to many, if not to most,
of the realists it is its structure rather than its significance that
altogether appeals; the romanticists in general sketched their ideas and
impressions upon it, as the naturalists have in the main studied its
aspects and constitution, careless of the import of these, pictorially
or otherwise. Indeed one is tempted often to inquire of the latter, Why
so much interest in what apparently seems to you of so little import?
Are we never to have your skill, your observation, your amassing of
"documents" turned to any account? Where is the realistic tragedy,
comedy, epic, composition of any sort? Courbet's "Cantonniers," Manet's
"Bar," or Bastien-Lepage's "Joan of Arc," perhaps. But what is
indisputable is, that we are irretrievably committed to the present
general æsthetic attitude and inspiration, and must share not only the
romanticists' impatience with academic formulæ and conventions, but the
realists' devotion to life and the world as they actually exist. The
future may be different, but we are living in the present, and what is
important is, after all, to live. It is also so difficult that not to
take the line of least resistance is fatuity.


II

It is at least an approximation to ascribe the primacy of realism to
Courbet, though ascriptions of the kind are at best approximations. Not
only was he the first, or among the first, to feel the interest and
importance of the actual world as it is and for what it is rather than
for what it suggests, but his feeling in this direction is intenser than
that of anyone else. Manet was preoccupied with the values of objects
and spaces. Bastien-Lepage, while painting these with the most
scrupulous fidelity, was nevertheless always attentive to the
significance and import of what he painted. Courbet was a pure
pantheist. He was possessed by the material, the physical, the actual.
He never varies it a hair's-breadth. He never lifts it a fraction of a
degree. But by his very absorption in it he dignifies it immensely. He
illustrates magnificently its possibilities. He brings out into the
plainest possible view its inherent, integral, æsthetic quality,
independent of any extraneity. No painter ever succeeded so well with so
little art, one is tempted to say. Beside his, the love of nature which
we ascribe to the ordinary realist is a superficial emotion. He had the
_sentiment_ of reality in the highest degree; he had it intensely. If he
did not represent nature with the searching subtlety of later painters,
he is certainly the forerunner of naturalism. He has absolutely no
ideality. He is blind to all intimations of immortality, all unearthly
voices.

Yet it would be wholly an error to suppose him a mere literalist. No one
is farther removed from the painstaking, grubbing imitators of detail so
justly denounced and ridiculed by Mr. Whistler. He has the generalizing
faculty in very distinguished degree, and in very large measure. Every
trait of his talent, indeed, is large, manly; but for a certain
qualification--which must be made--one might add, Olympian. This
qualification perhaps may be not unfairly described as earthiness--never
an agreeable trait, and one to which probably is due the depreciation of
Courbet that is so popular even among appreciative critics. It is easy
to characterize Courbet as brutal and material, but what is easy is
generally not exact. What one glibly stigmatizes as brutality and
grossness may, after all, be something of a particularly strong savor,
enjoyed by the painter himself with a gusto too sterling and instinctive
to be justifiably neglected, much less contemned. The first thing to do
in estimating an artist's accomplishment, which is to place one's self
at his point of view, is, in Courbet's case, unusually difficult. We are
all dreamers, more or less--in more or less desultory fashion--and can
all appreciate that prismatic turn of what is real and actual into a
position wherein it catches glints of the imagination. The imagination
is a universal touchstone. The sense of reality is a special, an
individual faculty. When one is poetizing in an amateur, a dilettante
way, as most of us poetize, a picture of Courbet, which seems to flaunt
and challenge the imagination in virtue of its defiant reality, its
insistence on the value and significance of the prosaic and the actual,
appears coarse and crude. It is not, however. It is very far from that.
It is rather elemental than elementary--in itself a prodigious
distinction. No modern painter has felt more intensely and reproduced
more vigorously the sap that runs through and vivifies the various forms
of natural phenomena. To censure his shortcomings, to regret his
imaginative incompleteness, is to miss him altogether.

It is easy to say he had all the coarseness without the sentiment of the
French peasantry, whence he sprang; that his political radicalism
attests a lack of the serenity of spirit indispensable to the sincere
artist; that he had no conception of the beautiful, the exquisite--the
fact remains that he triumphs over all his deficiencies, and in very
splendid fashion. He is, in truth, of all the realists for whom he
discovered the way, and set the pace, as it were, one of the two
naturalistic painters who have shown in any high degree the supreme
artistic faculty--that of generalization. However impressive Manet's
picture may be; however brilliant Monet's endeavor to reproduce sunlight
may seem; however refined and elegant Degas's delicate selection of
pictorial material--for broad and masterful generalization, for enduing
what he painted with an interest deeper than its surface and underlying
its aspect, Courbet has but one rival among realistic painters. I mean,
of course, Bastien-Lepage.

There is an important difference between the two. In Courbet the
sentiment of reality dominates the realism of the technic; in
Bastien-Lepage the technic is realistically carried infinitely farther,
but the sentiment quite transcends realism. Imagine Courbet essaying a
"Jeanne d'Arc!" Bastien-Lepage painting Courbet's "Cantonniers" would
not have stopped, as Courbet has done, with expressing their vitality,
their actual interest, but at the same time that he represented them in
far greater technical completeness he would also have occupied himself
with their psychology. He is indeed quite as distinctly a psychologist
as he is a painter. His favorite problem, aside from that of technical
perfection, which perhaps equally haunted him, is the rendering of that
resigned, bewildered, semi-hypnotic, vaguely and yet intensely longing
spiritual expression to be noted by those who have the eyes to see it in
the faces and attitudes now of the peasant laborer, now of the city
pariah. All his peasant women are potentially Jeannes d'Arc--"Les
Foins," "Tired," "Petite Fauvette," for example. The "note" is still
more evident in the "London Bootblack" and the "London Flower-girl," in
which the outcast "East End" spiritlessness of the British capital is
caught and fixed with a Zola-like veracity and vigor. Such a phase as
this is not so much pictorial or poetic, as psychological.
Bastien-Lepage's happiness in rendering it is a proof of the exceeding
quickness and sureness of his observation; but his preoccupation with it
is equally strong proof of his interest in the things of the mind as
well as in those of the senses. This is his great distinction, I think.
He beats the realist on his own ground (except perhaps Monet and his
followers--I remember no attempt of his to paint sunlight), but he is
imaginative as well. He is not, on the other hand, to be in anywise
associated with the romanticists. Degas's acid characterization of him,
as "the Bouguereau of the modern movement," is only just, if we remember
what very radical and fundamental changes the "modern movement" implies
in general attitude as well as in special expression. I should be
inclined, rather, to apply the analogy to M. Dagnan-Bouveret, though
here, too, with many reserves looking mainly to the difference between
true and vapid sentiment.

It is interesting to note, however, the almost exclusively intellectual
character of this imaginative side of Bastien-Lepage. He does not view
his material with any apparent sympathy, such as one notes, or at all
events divines, in Millet. Both were French peasants; but whereas
Millet's interest in his fellows is instinctive and absorbing,
Bastien-Lepage's is curious and detached. If his pictures ever succeed
in moving us, it is impersonally, in virtue of the camera-like scrutiny
he brings to bear on his subject, and the effectiveness with which he
renders it, and of the reflections which we institute of ourselves, and
which he fails to stimulate by even the faintest trace of a loving touch
or the betrayal of any sympathetic losing of himself in his theme. You
feel just the least intimation of the _doctrinaire_, the systematic
aloofness of the spectator. In moral attitude as well as in technical
expression he no more assimilates the various phases of his material, to
reproduce them afterward in new and original combination, than he
expresses the essence of landscape in general, as the Fontainebleau
painters do even in their most photographic moments. Both his figures
and his landscapes are clearly portraits--typical and not merely
individual, to be sure, but somehow not exactly creations. His skies are
the least successful portions of his pictures, I think; one must
generalize easily to make skies effective, and perhaps it is not
fanciful to note the frequency of high horizons in his work.

The fact remains that Bastien-Lepage stands at the head of the modern
movement in many ways. His friend, M. André Theuriet, has shown, in a
brochure published some years ago, that he was himself as interesting as
his pictures. He took his art very seriously, and spoke of it with a
dignity rather uncommon in the atmosphere of the studios, where there is
apt to be more enthusiasm than reflection. I recall vividly the
impatience with which he once spoke to me of painting "to show what you
can do." His own standard was always the particular ideal he had formed,
never within the reach of his ascertained powers. And whatever he did,
one may say, illustrates the sincerity and elevation of this remark,
whether one's mood incline one to care most for this psychological
side--undoubtedly the more nearly unique side--of his work, or for such
exquisite things as his "Forge" or the portrait of Mme Sarah Bernhardt.
Incontestably he has the true tradition, and stands in the line of the
great painters. And he owes his permanent place among them not less to
his perception that painting has a moral and significant, as well as a
representative and decorative sanction, than to his perfect harmony with
his own time in his way of illustrating this--to his happy fusion of
aspect admirably rendered with profound and stimulating suggestion.


III

Of the realistic landscape painters, the strict impressionists apart,
none is more eminent than M. Cazin, whose work is full of interest, and
if at times it leaves one a little cold, this is perhaps an affair of
the beholder's temperament rather than of M. Cazin's. He is a thoroughly
original painter, and, what is more at the present day, an imaginative
one. He sees in his own way the nature that we all see, and paints it
not literally but personally. But his landscapes invariably attest,
above all, an attentive study of the phenomena of light and air, and
their truthfulness is the more marked for the personality they
illustrate. The impression they make is of a very clairvoyant and
enthusiastic observation exercised by an artist who takes more pleasure
in appreciation than in expression, whose pleasure in his expression is
subordinate to his interest in the external world, and in large measure
confined to the delight every artist has in technical felicity when he
can attain it. Their skies are beautifully observed--graduated in value
with delicate verisimilitude from the horizon up, and wind-swept, or
drenched with mist, or ringing clear, as the motive may dictate. All
objects take their places with a precision that, nevertheless, is in
nowise pedantic, and is perfectly free. Cazin's palette is, moreover, a
thoroughly individual one. It is very pure, and if its range is not
great, it is at any rate not grayed into insipidity and ineffectualness,
but is as positive as if it were more vivid. A distinct air of elegance,
a true sense of style, is noteworthy in many of his pictures; not only
in the important ones, but occasionally when the theme is so slight as
to need hardly any composition whatever--the mere placing of a tree, its
outline, its relation to a bank or a roadway, are often unmistakably
distinguished. Cazin is not exclusively a landscape painter, and though
the landscape element in all his works is a dominant one, even in his
"Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert," and his "Judith Setting out for
Holofernes's Camp" (in which latter one can hardly identify the heroine
at all), the fact that he is not a landscape painter, pure and simple,
like Harpignies and Pointelin, perhaps accounts for his inferiority to
them in landscape sentiment. In France it is generally assumed that to
devote one's self exclusively to any one branch of painting is to betray
limitations, and there are few painters who would not resent being
called landscapists. Something, perhaps, is lost in this way. It
witnesses a greater pride in accomplishment than in instinctive bent.
But however that may be, Cazin never penetrates to the sentiment of
nature that one feels in such a work as Harpignies's "Moonrise," for
example, or in almost any of Pointelin's grave and impressive
landscapes. Hardly less truthful, I should say, though perhaps less
intimately and elaborately real (a romanticist would say less
superficially real) than Cazin's, the work of both these painters is
more pictorial. They have a quicker sense for the beautiful, I think.
They feel very certainly much more deeply the suggestiveness of a scene.
They are not so _débonnaires_ in the presence of their problems. In a
sense, for that reason, they understand them better. There is very
little feeling of the desert, the illimitable space, where, according to
Balzac, God is and man is not, in the "Hagar and Ishmael;" indeed there
seems to have been no attempt on the part of the painter to express any.
True as his sand-heap is, you feel somehow that there may be a
kitchen-garden or the entrance to a coal-mine on the other side of it,
or a little farther along. And the landscape of the "Judith," fine as
its sweep is, and admirable as are the cool tone and clear distance of
the picture, might really be that of the "south meadow" of some
particular "farm" or other.

The contrast which Guillaumet presents to Fromentin affords a very
striking illustration of the growth of the realistic spirit in recent
years. Fromentin is so admirable a painter that I can hardly fancy any
appreciative person wishing him different. His devoted admirer and
biographer, M. Louis Gonse, admits, and indeed expressly records,
Fromentin's own lament over the insufficiency of his studies. Fond as he
was of horses, for instance, he does not know them as a draughtsman with
the science of such a conventional painter in many other respects as
Schreyer. But it is not in the slightly amateurish nature of his
technical equipment--realized perfectly by himself, of course, as the
first critic of the technic of painting among all who have ventured upon
the subject--that his painting differs from Guillaumet's. It is his
whole point of view. His Africa is that of the critic, the
_littérateur_, the _raffiné_. Guillaumet's is Africa itself. You feel
before Guillaumet's Luxembourg canvases, as in looking over the
slightest of his vivid memoranda, that you are getting in an acute and
concentrated form the sensations which the actual scenes and types
rendered by the painter would stimulate in you, supposing, of course,
that you were sufficiently sensitive. Fromentin, in comparison, is
occupied in picture-making--giving you a beautifully colored and highly
intelligent pictorial report as against Guillaumet's actual
reproduction. There is no question as to which of the two painters has
the greater personal interest; but it is just as certain that for
abiding value and enduring charm personal interest must either be
extremely great or else yield to the interest inherent in the material
dealt with, an interest that Guillaumet brings out with a felicity and a
puissance that are wholly extraordinary, and that nowadays meet with a
readier and more sympathetic recognition that even such delicate
personal charm as that of Fromentin.


IV

So thoroughly has the spirit of realism fastened upon the artistic
effort of the present that temperaments least inclined toward interest
in the actual feel its influences, and show the effects of these. The
most recalcitrant illustrate this technically, however rigorously they
may preserve their point of view. They paint at least more
circumspectly, however they may think and feel. An historical painter
like Jean Paul Laurens, interested as he is in the memorable moments and
dramatic incidents of the past, and exhibiting as he does, first of all,
a sense of what is ideally forceful and heroic, is nevertheless clearly
concerned for the realistic value of his representation far more than a
generation ago he would have been. When Luminais paints a scene from
Gaulish legend, he is not quite, but nearly, as careful to make it
pictorially real as he is to have it dramatically effective. M. François
Flameng, expanding his book illustration into a mammoth canvas
commemorative of the Vendean insurrection, is almost daintily fastidious
about the naturalistic aspect of his abundant detail. M.
Benjamin-Constant's artificially conceived seraglio scenes are as
realistically rendered as is indicated by a recent caricature depicting
an astonished sneak-thief, foiled in an attempted rape of the jewels in
a sultana's diadem, painted with such deceptive illusoriness by M.
Benjamin-Constant's clever brush. The military painters, Detaille, De
Neuville, Berne-Bellecour, do not differ from Vernet more by painting
incidents instead of phases of warfare, by substituting the touch of
dramatic _genre_ for epic conceptions, than they do by the scrupulously
naturalistic rendering that in them supplants the old academic
symbolism. Their dragoons and _fantassins_ are not merely more real in
what they do, but in how they look. Vernet's look like tin soldiers by
comparison; certainly like soldiers _de convenance_. Aimé Morot
evidently used instantaneous photography, and his magnificent cavalry
charges suggest not only carnage, but Muybridge as well.

The great portrait-painters of the day--Carolus-Duran, Bonnat,
Ribot--are realists to the core. They are very far from being purely
portrait-painters of course, and their realism shows itself with
splendid distinction in other works. Few painters of the nude have
anything to their credit as fine as the figure M. Carolus-Duran
exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Ribot's "Saint Sebastian" is
one of the most powerful pictures of modern French art. Bonnat's
"Christ" became at once famous. Each picture is painted with a vigor and
point of realistic detail that are peculiar to our own time; painted
to-day, Bonnat's fine and sculptural "Fellah Woman and Child," of the
Metropolitan Museum, would be accented in a dozen ways in which now it
is not. But it is perhaps in portraiture that the eminence of these
painters is most explicit. They are at the head of contemporary
portraitists, at all events. And their portraits are almost defiantly
real, void often of arrangement, and as little artificial as the very
frequently prosaic atmosphere appertaining to their sometimes very stark
subjects suggests. A portrait by Bonnat blinks nothing in the subject;
its aim and accomplishment are the rendering of the character in a vivid
fashion--including the reproduction of cobalt cravats and creased
trousers even--which would have mightily embarrassed Van Dyck or
Velasquez. Ribot reproduces Ribera often, but he deals with fewer
externals, fewer effects, taken in the widest sense. Carolus-Duran, the
"swell" portrait-painter of the day, artificial as he may be in the
quality of his mind, nevertheless seeks and attains, first of all, the
sense of an even exaggerated life-likeness in his charming sitters.
They are, first of all, people; the pictorial element takes care of
itself; sometimes even--so overmastering is the realistic tendency--the
plush of the chair, the silk of the robe, the cut of the coat, seems, to
an observer who thinks of the old traditions of Titian, of Raphael, of
Moroni, unduly emphasized, even for realism.


V

One element of modernity is a certain order of eclecticism. It is not
the eclecticism of the Bolognese painters, for example, illustrating the
really hopeless attempt to combine the supposed and superficial
excellences, always dissociated from the essence, of different points of
view. It is a free choice of attitude, rather, due to the release of the
individual from the thraldom of conformity that ruled even during the
romantic epoch. Hence a great deal of admirable work, of which one
hardly thinks whether it is realistic or not, side by side with the more
emphatic expressions of the realistic spirit. And this work is of all
degrees of realism, never, however, getting very far away from the
naturalistic basis on which more and more everyone is coming to insist
as the necessary and only solid pedestal of any flight of fancy. Baudry
is perhaps the nearest of the really great men to the Bolognese order
of eclecticism. I suppose he must be classed among the really great men,
so many painters of intelligence place him there, though I must myself
plead the laic privilege of a slight scepticism as to whether time will
approve their enthusiasm. He is certainly very effective, and in
certainly his own way, idle as it is to say that his drafts on the great
Italians are no greater than those of Raphael on the antique frescos. He
had a great love of color and a native instinct for it; with perhaps
more appreciation than invention, his imagination has something very
personal in the zealous enthusiasm with which he exercised it, though I
think it must be admitted that his reflections of Tiepolo, Titian,
Tintoretto and his attenuated expansions of Michael Angelo's condensed
grandiosity, recall the eclecticism of the Carracci far more than that
of Raphael. But his manner is the modern manner, and it is altogether
more effective, more "fetching," to use a modern term, than anything
purely academic can be. Élie Delaunay, another master of decoration, is,
on the other hand, as real as the most rigorous literalist could ask of
a painter of decorative works. Chartran, who has an individual charm
that both Baudry and Delaunay lack, inferior as he is to them in sweep
and power, is perhaps in this respect midway between the two. Clairin
is, like Mazerolles, a pure _fantaisiste_. Dubufe _fils_, whose at
least equally famous father ranks in a somewhat similar category with
Couture, shows a distinct advance upon him in reality of rendering, as
the term would be understood at present.

In other departments of painting the note of realism is naturally still
more universally apparent; but as in the work of the painters of
decoration it is often most noticeable as an undertone, indicating a
point of departure rather than an aim. Bonvin is a realist only as
Chardin, as Van der Meer of Delft, as Nicholas Maes were, before the
jargon of realism had been thought of. He is, first of all, an exquisite
artist, in love with the beautiful in reality, finding in it the
humblest material, and expressing it with the gentlest, sweetest,
æsthetic severity and composure imaginable. The most fastidious critic
needs but a touch of human feeling to convert any characterization of
this most refined and elevated of painters into pure panegyric. Vollon's
touch is felicity itself, and it is evident that he takes more pleasure
in exercising and exploiting it than in its successful imitation,
striking as its imitative quality is. Gervex and Duez are very much more
than impressionists, both in theory and practice. There is nothing
polemic in either. Painters extol in the heartiest way the color, the
creative coloration of Gervex's "Rolla," quite aside from its dramatic
force or its truth of aspect. Personal feeling is clearly the
inspiration of every work of Duez, not the demonstration of a theory of
treating light and atmosphere. The same may be said of Roll at his best,
as in his superb rendering of what may be called the modern painter's
conception of the myth of Europa. Compared with Paul Veronese's
admirable classic, that violates all the unities (which Veronese,
nevertheless, may readily be pardoned by all but literalists and
theorists for neglecting), this splendid nude girl in _plein air_,
flecked with splotches of sunlight filtered through a sieve of leafage,
with her realistic taurine companion, and their environment of
veridically rendered out-of-doors, may stand for an illustrative
definition of modernity; but what you feel most of all is Roll. It is
ten chances to one that he has never even been to Venice or thought of
Veronese. He has not always been so successful; as when in his "Work" he
earned Degas's acute comment: "A crowd is made with five persons, not
with fifty." ("Il y a cinquante figures, mais je ne vois pas la foule;
on fait une foule avec cinq, et non pas avec cinquante.") But he has
always been someone. Compare with him L'Hermitte, a painter who
illustrates sometimes the possibility of being an artificial realist.
His "Vintage" at the Metropolitan Museum, his "Harvesters" at the
Luxembourg, are excellently real and true in detail, but in idea and
general expression they might compete for the prix de Rome. The same is
measurably true of Lerolle, whose pictures are more sympathetic--sometimes
they are _very_ sympathetic--but on the whole display less power. But
in each instance the advocate _à outrance_ of realism may justly, I
think, maintain that a painter with a natural predisposition toward the
insipidity of the academic has been saved from it by the inherent sanity
and robustness of the realistic method. Jean Béraud, even, owes something
to the way in which his verisimilitude of method has reinforced his
artistic powers. His delightful Parisiennes--modistes' messengers crossing
wet glistening pavements against a background of gray mist accented with
poster-bedizened kiosks and regularly recurring horse-chestnut trees;
_élégantes_ at prayer, in somewhat distracted mood, on _prie-dieus_
in the vacant and vapid Paris churches; seated at café tables on the busy,
leisurely boulevards, or posing _tout bonnement_ for the reproduction
of the most fascinating feminine _ensemble_ in the world--owe their
charm (I may say again their "fetchingness") to the faithfulness with which
their portraitist has studied, and the fidelity with which he has
reproduced, their differing types, more than to any personal expression
of his own view of them. Fancy Béraud's masterpiece, the Salle
Graffard--that admirable characterization of crankdom embodied in a
socialist reunion--painted by an academic painter. How absolutely it would
lose its pith, its force, its significance, even its true distinction. And
his "Magdalen at the Pharisee's House," which is almost equally
impressive--far more impressive of course in a literary and, I think,
legitimate, sense--owes even its literary effectiveness to its significant
realism.

What the illustrators of the present day owe to the naturalistic method,
it is almost superfluous to point out. "Illustrators" in France are, in
general, painters as well, some of them very eminent painters. Daumier,
who passed in general for a contributor to illustrated journals, even
such journals as _Le Petit Journal pour Rire_, was not only a genius of
the first rank, but a painter of the first class. Monvel and Monténard
at present are masterly painters. But in their illustration as well as
in their painting, they show a notable change from the illustration of
the days of Daumier and Doré. The difference between the elegant (or
perhaps rather the handsome) drawings of Bida, an artist of the utmost
distinction, and that of the illustrators of the present day who are
comparable with him--their name is not legion--is a special attestation
of the influence of the realistic ideal in a sphere wherein, if
anywhere, one may say, realism reigns legitimately, but wherein also the
conventional is especially to be expected. One cannot indeed be quite
sure that the temptations of the conventional are resisted by the
ultra-realistic illustrators of our own time, Rossi, Beaumont, Albert
Lynch, Myrbach. They have certainly a very handy way of expressing
themselves; one would be justified in suspecting the labor-saving, the
art-sparing kodak, behind many of their most unimpeachable successes.
But the attitude taken is quite other than it used to be, and the change
that has come over French æsthetic activity in general can be noted in
very sharp definition by comparing a book illustrated twenty years ago
by Albert Lynch, with, for example, Maupassant's "Pierre et Jean," the
distinguished realism of whose text is adequately paralleled--and the
implied eulogy is by no means trivial--by the pictorical commentary, so
to speak, which this first of modern illustrators has supplied. And an
even more striking illustration of the evolution of realistic thought
and feeling, as well as of rendering, is furnished by the succession of
Forain to Grévin, as an illustrator of the follies of the day, the
characteristic traits of the Parisian seamy side, morally speaking.
Grévin is as conventional as Murger, in philosophy, and--though
infinitely cleverer--as "Mars" in drawing. Forain, with the pencil of a
realism truly Japanese, illustrates with sympathetic incisiveness the
pitiless pessimism of Flaubert, Goncourt, and Maupassant as well.


VI

But to go back a little and consider the puissant individualities, the
great men who have really given its direction to and, as it were, set
the pace of, the realistic movement, and for whom, in order more
conveniently to consider impressionism pure and simple by itself, I have
ventured to disturb the chronological sequence of evolution in French
painting--a sequence that, even if one care more for ideas than for
chronology, it is more temerarious to vary from in things French than in
any others. To go back in a word to Manet; the painter of whom M. Henri
Houssaye has remarked: "Manet sowed, M. Bastien-Lepage has reaped."

Manet was certainly one of the most noteworthy painters that France or
any other country has produced. His is the great, the very rare, merit
of having conceived a new point of view. That he did not illustrate this
in its completeness, that he was a sign-post, as Albert Wolff very aptly
said, rather an exemplar, is nothing. He was totally unheralded, and he
was in his way superb. No one before him had essayed--no one before him
had ever thought of--the immense project of breaking, not relatively but
absolutely, with the conventional. Looking for the first time at one of
his pictures, one says that customary notions, ordinary brushes,
traditional processes of even the highest authenticity, have been thrown
to the winds. Hence, indeed, the scandal which he caused from the first
and which went on increasing, until, owing to the acceptance, with
modifications, of his point of view by the most virile and vigorous
painters of the day, he became, as he has become, in a sense the head of
the corner. Manet's great distinction is to have discovered that the
sense of reality is achieved with a thousand-fold greater intensity by
getting as near as possible to the _actual_, rather than resting content
with the _relative_, value of every detail. Everyone who has painted
since Manet has either followed him in this effort or has appeared
jejune.

Take as an illustration of the contrary practice such a masterpiece in
its way as Gérôme's "Éminence Grise." In this picture, skilfully and
satisfactorily composed, the relative values of all the colors are
admirably, even beautifully, observed. The correspondence of the gamut
of values to that of the light and dark scale of such an actual scene is
perfect. Before Manet, one could have said that this is all that is
required or can be secured, arguing that exact _imitation_ of local
tints and general tone is impossible, owing to the difference between
nature's highest light and lowest dark, and the potentialities of the
palette. In other words, one might have said, that inasmuch as you can
squeeze absolute white and absolute black out of no tubes, the thing to
do is first to determine the scale of your picture and then make every
note in it bear the same relation to every other that the corresponding
note in nature bears to its fellows in its own corresponding but
different scale. This is what Gérôme has done in the "Éminence Grise"--a
scene, it will be remembered, on a staircase in a palace interior. Manet
inquires what would happen to this house of cards shored up into
verisimilitude by mere _correspondence_, if Gérôme had been asked to cut
a window in his staircase and admit the light of out-of-doors into his
correspondent but artificial scene. The whole thing would have to be
done over again. The scale of the picture running from the highest
palette white to the lowest palette dark, and yet the key of an actual
interior scene being much nearer middle-tint than the tint of an actual
out-of-doors scene, it would be impossible to paint with any
verisimilitude the illumination of a window from the outside, the
resources of the palette having already been exhausted, every object
having been given a local value solely with relation, so far as truth of
representation is concerned, to the values of every other object, and no
effort being made to get the precise value of the object as it would
appear under analogous circumstances in nature.

It may be replied, and I confess I think with excellent reason, that
Gérôme's picture has no window in it, and therefore that to ask of him
to paint a picture as he would if he were painting a different picture,
is pedantry. The old masters are still admirable, though they only
observed a correspondence to the actual scale of natural values, and
were not concerned with imitation of it. But it is to be observed that,
successful as their practice is, it is successful in virtue of the
unconscious co-operation of the beholder's imagination. And nowadays not
only is the exercise of the imagination become for better or worse a
little old-fashioned, but the one thing that is insisted on as a
starting-point and basis, at the very least, is the sense of reality.
And it is impossible to exaggerate the way in which the sense of reality
has been intensified by Manet's insistence upon getting as near as
possible to the individual values of objects as they are seen in
nature--in spite of his abandonment of the practice of painting on a
parallel scale. Things now drop into their true place, look as they
really do, and count as they count in nature, because the painter is no
longer content with giving us change for nature, but tries his best to
give us nature itself. Perspective acquires its actual significance,
solids have substance and bulk as well as surfaces, distance is
perceived as it is in nature, by the actual interposition of atmosphere,
chiaro-oscuro is abolished--the ways in which reality is secured being
in fact legion the moment real instead of relative values are studied.
Something is lost, very likely--an artist cannot be so intensely
preoccupied with reality as, since Manet, it has been incumbent on
painters to be, without missing a whole range of qualities that are so
precious as rightly perhaps to be considered indispensable. Until
reality becomes in its turn an effect unconsciously attained, the
painter's imagination will be held more or less in abeyance. And perhaps
we are justified in thinking that nothing can quite atone for its
absence. Meantime, however, it must be acknowledged that Manet first
gave us this sense of reality in a measure comparable with that which
successively Balzac, Flaubert, Zola gave to the readers of their
books--a sense of actuality and vividness beside which the traditionary
practice seemed absolutely fanciful and mechanical.

Applying Manet's method, his invention, his discovery, to the painting
of out-of-doors, the _plein air_ school immediately began to produce
landscapes of astonishing reality by confining their effort to those
values which it is in the power of pigments to imitate. The possible
scale of mere correspondence being of course from one to one hundred,
they secured greater truth by painting between twenty and eighty, we may
say. Hence the grayness of the most successful French landscapes of the
present day--those of Bastien-Lepage's backgrounds, of Cazin's pictures.
Sunlight being unpaintable, they confined themselves to the
representation of what they could represent. In the interest of truth,
of reality, they narrowed the gamut of their modulations, they attempted
less, upheld by the certainty of accomplishing more. For a time French
landscape was pitched in a minor key. Suddenly Claude Monet appeared.
Impressionism, as it is now understood, and as Manet had not succeeded
in popularizing it, won instant recognition. Monet's discovery was that
light is the most important factor in the painting of out-of-doors. He
pushed up the key of landscape painting to the highest power. He
attacked the fascinating, but of course demonstrably insolvable, problem
of painting sunlight, not illusorily, as Fortuny had done by relying on
contrasts of light and dark correspondent in scale, but positively and
realistically. He realized as nearly as possible the effect of
sunlight--that is to say, he did as well and no better in this respect
than Fortuny had done--but he created a much greater illusion of a
sunlit landscape than anyone had ever done before him, by painting those
parts of his picture not in sunlight with the exact truth that in
painting objects in shadow the palette can compass.

Nothing is more simple. Take a landscape with a cloudy sky, which means
diffused light in the old sense of the term, and observe the effect upon
it of a sudden burst of sunlight. What is the effect where considerable
portions of the scene are suddenly thrown into marked shadow, as well as
others illuminated with intense light? Is the absolute value of the
parts in shadow lowered or raised? Raised, of course, by reflected
light. Formerly, to get the contrast between sunlight and shadow in
proper scale, the painter would have painted the shadows darker than
they were before the sun appeared. Relatively they are darker, since
their value, though heightened, is raised infinitely less than the value
of the parts in sunlight. Absolutely, their value is raised
considerably. If, therefore, they are painted lighter than they were
before the sun appeared, they in themselves seem truer. The part of
Monet's picture that is in shadow is measurably true, far truer than it
would have been if painted under the old theory of correspondence, and
had been unnaturally darkened to express the relation of contrast
between shadow and sunlight. Scale has been lost. What has been gained?
Simply truth of impressionistic effect. Why? Because we know and judge
and appreciate and feel the measure of truth with which objects in
shadow are represented; we are insensibly more familiar with them in
nature than with objects directly sun-illuminated, the value as well as
the definition of which are far vaguer to us on account of their
blending and infinite heightening by a luminosity absolutely
overpowering. In a word, in sunlit landscapes objects in shadow are what
customarily and unconsciously we see and note and know, and the illusion
is greater if the relation between them and the objects in sunlight,
whose value habitually we do not note, be neglected or falsified. Add to
this source of illusion the success of Monet in giving a juster value to
the sunlit half of his picture than had even been systematically
attempted before his time, and his astonishing _trompe-l'oeil_ is, I
think, explained. Each part is truer than ever before, and unless one
have a specially developed sense of _ensemble_ in this very special
matter of values in and affected by sunlight, one gets from Monet an
impression of actuality so much greater than he has ever got before,
that he may be pardoned for feeling, and even for enthusiastically
proclaiming, that in Monet realism finds its apogee. To sum up: The
first realists painted _relative_ values; Manet and his derivatives
painted _absolute_ values, but in a wisely limited gamut; Monet paints
_absolute values in a very wide range, plus sunlight, as nearly as he
can get it_--as nearly as pigment can be got to represent it. Perforce
he loses scale, and therefore artistic completeness, but he secures an
incomparably vivid effect of reality, of nature--and of nature in her
gayest, most inspiring manifestation, illuminated directly and
indirectly, and everywhere vibrant and palpitating with the light of all
our physical seeing.

Monet is so subtle in his own way, so superbly successful within his own
limits, that it is time wasted to quarrel with the convention-steeped
philistine who refuses to comprehend even his point of view, who judges
the pictures he sees by the pictures he has seen. He has not only
discovered a new way of looking at nature, but he has justified it in a
thousand particulars. Concentrated as his attention has been upon the
effects of light and atmosphere, he has reproduced an infinity of
nature's moods that are charming in proportion to their transitoriness,
and whose fleeting beauties he has caught and permanently fixed.
Rousseau made the most careful studies, and then combined them in his
studio. Courbet made his sketch, more or less perfect, face to face with
his subject, and elaborated it afterward away from it. Corot painted his
picture from nature, but put the Corot into it in his studio. Monet's
practice is in comparison drastically thorough. After thirty minutes, he
says--why thirty instead of forty or twenty, I do not know; these
mysteries are Eleusinian to the mere amateur--the light changes; he
must stop and return the next day at the same hour. The result is
immensely real, and in Monet's hands immensely varied. One may say as
much, having regard to their differing degrees of success, of Pissaro,
who influenced him, and of Caillebotte, Renoir, Sisley, and the rest of
the impressionists who followed him.

He is himself the prominent representative of the school, however, and
the fact that one representative of it is enough to consider, is
eloquent of profound criticism of it. For decorative purposes a hole in
one's wall, an additional window through which one may only look
satisfactorily during a period of thirty minutes, has its drawbacks. A
walk in the country or in a city park is after all preferable to anyone
who can really appreciate a Monet--that is, anyone who can feel the
illusion of nature which it is his sole aim to produce. After all, what
one asks of art is something different from imitative illusion. Its
essence is illusion, I think, but illusion taken in a different sense
from optical illusion--_trompe-l'oeil_. Its function is to make dreams
seem real, not to recall reality. Monet is enduringly admirable mainly
to the painter who envies and endeavors to imitate his wonderful power
of technical expression--the thing that occupies most the conscious
attention of the true painter. To others he must remain a little
unsatisfactory, because he is not only not a dreamer, but because he
does nothing with his material except to show it as it is--a great
service surely, but largely excluding the exercise of that architectonic
faculty, personally directed, which is the very life of every truly
æsthetic production.


VII

In fine, the impressionist has his own conventions; no school can escape
them, from the very nature of the case and the definition of the term.
The conventions of the impressionists, indeed, are particularly salient.
Can anyone doubt it who sees an exhibition of their works? In the same
number of classic, or romantic, or merely realistic pictures, is there
anything quite equalling the monotony that strikes one in a display of
canvasses by Claude Monet and his fellows and followers? But the defect
of impressionism is not mainly its technical conventionality. It is, as
I think everyone except its thick-and-thin advocates must feel, that
pursued _à outrance_ it lacks a seriousness commensurate with its
claims--that it exhibits indeed a kind of undertone of frivolity that is
all the nearer to the absolutely comic for the earnestness, so to speak,
of its unconsciousness. The reason is, partly no doubt, to be ascribed
to its _débonnaire_ self-satisfaction, its disposition to "lightly run
amuck at an august thing," the traditions of centuries namely, to its
bumptiousness, in a word. But chiefly, I think, the reason is to be
found in its lack of anything properly to be called a philosophy. This
is surely a fatal flaw in any system, because it involves a
contradiction in terms; and to say that to have no philosophy is the
philosophy of the impressionists, is merely a word-juggling bit of
question-begging. A theory of technic is not a philosophy, however
systematic it may be. It is a mechanical, not an intellectual, point of
view. It is not a way of looking at things, but of rendering them. It
expresses no idea and sees no relations; its claims on one's interest
are exhausted when once its right to its method is admitted. The remark
once made of a typically literal person--that he cared so much for facts
that he disliked to think they had any relations--is intimately
applicable to the whole impressionist school. Technically, of course,
the impressionist's relations are extremely just--not exquisite, but
exquisitely just. But merely to get just values is not to occupy one's
self with values ideally, emotionally, personally. It is merely to
record facts. Certainly any impressionist rendering of the light and
shade and color relations of objects seems eloquent beside any
traditional and conventional rendering of them; but it is because each
object is so carefully observed, so truly painted, that its relation to
every other is spontaneously satisfactory; and this is a very different
thing from the result of truly pictorial rendering with its constructive
appeal, its sense of _ensemble_, its presentation of an idea by means of
the convergence and interdependence of objects focussed to a common and
central effect. To this impressionism is absolutely insensitive. It is
the acme of detachment, of indifference.

Turgénieff, according to Mr. George Moore, complained of Zola's Gervaise
Coupeau, that Zola explained how she felt, never what she thought.
"Qu'est que ça me fait si elle suait sous les bras, ou au milieu du
dos?" he asked, with most pertinent penetration. He is quite right.
Really we only care for facts when they explain truths. The desultory
agglomeration of never so definitely rendered details necessarily leaves
the civilized appreciation cold. What distinguishes the civilized from
the savage appreciation is the passion for order. The tendency to order,
said Sénancour, should form "an essential part of our inclinations, of
our instinct, like the tendencies to self-preservation and to
reproduction." The two latter tendencies the savage possesses as
completely as the civilized man, but he does not share the civilized
man's instinct for correlation. And in this sense, I think, a certain
savagery is justly to be ascribed to the impressionist. His productions
have many attractions and many merits--merits and attractions that the
traditional painting has not. But they are really only by a kind of
automatic inadvertence, pictures. They are not truly pictorial.

And a picture should be something more than even pictorial. To be
permanently attaching it should give at least a hint of the painter's
philosophy--his point of view, his attitude toward his material. In the
great pictures you can not only discover this attitude, but the attitude
of the painter toward life and the world in general. Everyone has as
distinct an idea of the philosophy of Raphael as of the qualities of his
designs. The impressionist not only does not show you what he thinks, he
does not even show you how he feels, except by betraying a fondness for
violets and diffused light, and by exhibiting the temper of the radical
and the rioter. The order of a blithe, idyllic landscape by Corot, of
one of Delacroix's pieces of concentric coloration, of an example of
Ingres's purity of outline, shows not only temperament, but the position
of the painter in regard to the whole intellectual world so far as he
touches it at all. What does a canvas of Claude Monet show in this
respect? It is more truthful but not less impersonal than a photograph.

Degas is the only other painter usually classed with the
impressionists, of whom this may not be said. But Degas is hardly an
impressionist at all. He is one of the most personal painters, if not
the most personal painter, of the day. He is as original as Puvis de
Chavannes. What allies him with the impressionists is his fondness for
fleeting aspects, his caring for nothing beyond aspect--for the look of
things and their transitory look. He is an enthusiastic admirer of
Ingres--who, one would say, is the antithesis of impressionism. He never
paints from nature. His studies are made with the utmost care, but they
are arranged, composed, combined by his own sense of what is
pictorial--by, at any rate, his own idea of the effects he wishes to
create. He cares absolutely nothing for what ordinarily we understand by
the real, the actual, so far as its reality is concerned; he sees
nothing else, to be sure, and is probably very sceptical about anything
but colors and shapes and their decorative arrangement; but he sees what
he likes in reality and follows this out with an inerrancy so
scrupulous, and even affectionate, as to convey the idea that in his
result he himself counts for almost nothing. This at least may be said
of him, that he shows what, given genius, can be got out of the
impressionist method artistically and practically employed to the end of
illustrating a personal point of view. A mere amateur can hardly
distinguish between a Caillebotte and a Sisley, for example, but
everyone identifies a Degas as immediately and as certainly as he does a
Whistler. His work is perfectly sincere and admirably intelligent. It
has neither the pose nor the irresponsibility of the impressionists. His
artistic apotheosis of the ballet-girl is merely the result of his happy
discovery of something delightfully, and in a very true sense naturally,
decorative in material that is in the highest degree artificial. His
impulse is as genuine and spontaneous as if the substance upon which it
is exercised were not the acme of the exotic, and already arranged with
the most elaborate conventionality. Nothing indeed could be more opposed
to the elementary crudity of impressionism than his distinction and
refinement, which may be said to be carried to a really _fin de siècle_
degree.


VIII

Whatever the painting of the future is to be, it is certain not to be
the painting of Monet. For the present, no doubt, Monet is the last word
in painting. To belittle him is not only whimsical, but ridiculous. He
has plainly worked a revolution in his art. He has taken it out of the
vicious circle of conformity to, departure from, and return to
abstractions and the so-called ideal. No one hereafter who attempts the
representation of nature--and for as far ahead as we can see with any
confidence, the representation of nature, the pantheistic ideal if one
chooses, will increasingly intrench itself as the painter's true aim--no
one who seriously attempts to realize this aim of now universal appeal
will be able to dispense with Monet's aid. He must perforce follow the
lines laid down for him by this astonishing naturalist. Any other course
must result in solecism, and if anything future is certain, it is
certain that the future will be not only inhospitable to, but absolutely
intolerant of, solecism. Henceforth the basis of things is bound to be
solid and not superficial, real and not fantastic. But--whether the
future is to commit itself wholly to prose, or is to preserve in new
conditions the essence of the poetry that, in one form or another, has
persisted since plastic art began--for the superstructure to be erected
on the sound basis of just values and true impressions it is justifiably
easy to predict a greater interest and a more real dignity than any such
preoccupation with the basis of technic as Monet's can possibly have.
And though, even as one says it, one has the feeling that the future is
pregnant with some genius who will out-Monet Monet, and that painting
will in some now inconceivable way have to submit hereafter to a still
more rigorous standard than it does at present--I have heard the claims
of binocular vision urged--at the same time the true "child of nature"
may console himself with the reflection that accuracy and competence are
but the accidents, at most the necessary phenomena, of what really and
essentially constitutes fine art of any kind--namely, the expression of
a personal conception of what is not only true but beautiful as well. In
France less than anywhere else is it likely that even such a powerful
force as modern realism will long dominate the constructive, the
architectonic faculty, which is part of the very fibre of the French
genius. The exposition and illustration of a theory believed in with a
fervency to be found only among a people with whom the intelligence is
the chief element and object of experiment and exercise, are a natural
concomitant of mental energy and activity. But no theory holds them long
in bondage. At the least, it speedily gives place to another formulation
of the mutinous freedom its very acceptance creates. And the conformity
that each of them in succession imposes on mediocrity is always varied
and relieved by the frequent incarnations in masterful personalities of
the natural national traits--of which, I think, the architectonic spirit
is one of the most conspicuous. Painting will again become creative,
constructive, personally expressive. Its basis having been established
as scientifically impeccable, its superstructure will exhibit the
taste, the elegance, the imaginative freedom, exhibited within the
limits of a cultivated sense of propriety, that are an integral part of
the French painter's patrimony.



IV


CLASSIC SCULPTURE


I

French sculpture naturally follows very much the same course as
French painting. Its beginnings, however, are Gothic, and the
Renaissance emancipated rather than created it. Italy, over which the
Gothic wave passed with less disturbing effect than anywhere else, and
where the Pisans were doing pure sculpture when everywhere farther north
sculpture was mainly decorative and rigidly architectural, had a potent
influence. But the modern phases of French sculpture have a closer
relationship with the Chartres Cathedral than modern French painting has
with its earliest practice; and Claux Sluters, the Burgundian Fleming
who modelled the wonderful Moses Well and the tombs of Jean Sans Peur
and Phillippe le Hardi at Dijon, among his other anachronistic
masterpieces, exerted considerably greater influence upon his successors
than the Touraine school of painting and the Clouets did upon theirs.

These works are a curious compromise between the Gothic and the modern
spirits. Sluters was plainly a modern temperament working with Gothic
material and amid Gothic ideas. In itself his sculpture is hardly
decorative, as we apply the epithet to modern work. It is just off the
line of rigidity, of insistence in every detail of its right and title
to individuality apart from every other sculptured detail. The prophets
in the niches of the beautiful Dijon Well, the monks under the arcades
of the beautiful Burgundian tombs, have little relation with each other
as elements of a decorative sculptural composition. They are in the same
style, that is all. Each of them is in interest quite independent of the
other. Compared with one of the Pisans' pulpits they form a congeries
rather than a composition. Compared with Goujon's "Fountain of the
Innocents" their motive is not decorative at all. Isaiah, Ezekiel,
Jeremiah asserts his individuality in a way the more sociable prophets
of the Sistine Chapel would hesitate to do. They have a little the air
of hermits--of artistic anchorites, one may say.

They are Gothic, too, not only in being thus sculpturally undecorative
and uncomposed, but in being beautifully subordinate to the architecture
which it is their unmistakable ancillary function to decorate in the
most delightful way imaginable--in being in a word architecturally
decorative. The marriage of the two arts is, Gothically, not on equal
terms. It never occurred, of course, to the Gothic architect that it
should be. His _ensemble_ was always one of which the chief, the
overwhelming, one may almost say the sole, interest is structural. He
even imposed the condition that the sculpture which decorated his
structure should be itself architecturally structural. One figure of the
portals of Chartres is almost as like another as one pillar of the
interior is like its fellows; for the reason--eminently satisfactory to
the architect--that it discharges an identical function.

Emancipation from this thraldom of the architect is Sluters's great
distinction, however. He is modern in this sense, without going so
far--without going anything like so far--as the modern sculptor who
divorces his work from that of the architect with whom he is called upon
to combine to the end of an _ensemble_ that shall be equally agreeable
to the sense satisfied by form and that satisfied by structure. His
figures, subordinate as they are to the general architectural purpose
and function of what they decorate, are not only not purely structural
in their expression, stiff as they still are from the point of view of
absolutely free sculpture; they are, moreover, not merely unrelated to
each other in any essential sense, such as that in which the figures of
the Pisans and of Goujon are related; they are on the contrary each and
all wonderfully accentuated and individualized. Every ecclesiastic on
the Dijon tombs is a character study. Every figure on the Well has a
psychologic as well as a sculptural interest. Poised between Gothic
tradition and modern feeling, between a reverend and august æsthetic
conventionality and the dawn of free activity, Sluters is one of the
most interesting and stimulating figures in the whole history of
sculpture. And the force of his characterizations, the vividness of his
conceptions, and the combined power and delicacy of his modelling give
him the added importance of one of the heroes of his art in any time or
country. There is something extremely Flemish in his sense of
personality. A similar interest in humanity as such, in the individual
apart from the type, is noticeable in the pictures of the Van Eycks, of
Memling, of Quentin Matsys, and Roger Van der Weyden, wherein all idea
of beauty, of composition, of universal appeal is subordinated as it is
in no other art--in that of Holland no more than in that of Italy--to
the representation in the most definite, precise, and powerful way of
some intensely human personality. There is the same extraordinary
concreteness in one of Matsys's apostles and one of Sluters's prophets.

Michel Colombe, the pupil of Claux and Anthoniet and the sculptor of the
monument of François II., Duke of Brittany, at Nantes, the relief of
"St. George and the Dragon" for the Château of Gaillon, now in the
Louvre, and the Fontaine de Beaune, at Tours, and Jean Juste, whose
noble masterpiece, the Tomb of Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany, is the
finest ornament of the Cathedral of St. Denis, bridge the distance and
mark the transition to Goujon, Cousin, and Germain Pilon far more
suavely than the school of Fontainebleau did the change from that of
Tours to Poussin. Cousin, though the monument of Admiral Chabot is a
truly marvellous work, witnessing a practical sculptor's hand, is really
to be classed among painters. And Germain Pilon's compromise with
Italian decorativeness, graceful and fertile sculptor as his many works
show him to have been, resulted in a lack of personal force that has
caused him to be thought on the one hand "seriously injured by the
bastard sentiment proper to the school of Fontainebleau," as Mrs.
Pattison somewhat sternly remarks, and on the other to be reprehended by
Germain Brice in 1718, for evincing _quelque reste du goût
gothique_--some reminiscence of Gothic taste. Jean Goujon is really the
first modern French sculptor.


II

He remains, too, one of the very finest, even in a competition
constantly growing more exacting since his day. He had a very particular
talent, and it was exhibited in manifold ways. He is as fine in relief
as in the round. His decorative quality is as eminent as his purely
sculptural side. Compared with his Italian contemporaries he is at once
full of feeling and severe. He has nothing of Pilon's chameleon-like
imitativeness. He does not, on the other hand, break with the traditions
of the best models known to him--and, undoubtedly he knew the best. His
works cover and line the Louvre, and anyone who visits Paris may get a
perfect conception of his genius--certainly anyone who in addition
visits Rouen and beholds the lovely tracery of his earliest sculpture on
the portal of St. Maclou. He was eminently the sculptor of an educated
class, and appealed to a cultivated appreciation. Coming as he did at
the acme of the French Renaissance, when France was borrowing with
intelligent selection whatever it considered valuable from Italy, he
pleased the dilettanti. There is something distinctly "swell" in his
work. He does not perhaps express any overmastering personal feeling,
nor does he stamp the impress of French national character on his work
with any particular emphasis. He is too well-bred and too cultivated, he
has too much _aplomb_. But his works show both more personal feeling and
more national character than the works of his contemporaries elsewhere.
For line he has a very intimate instinct, and of mass, in the sculptor's
as well as the painter's sense, he has a native comprehension. Compare
his "Diana" of the Louvre with Cellini's in the adjoining room from the
point of view of pure sculpture. Goujon's group is superb in every way.
Cellini's figure is tormented and distorted by an impulse of decadent
though decorative æstheticism. Goujon's caryatides and figures of the
Innocents Fountain are equally sculptural in their way--by no means
arabesques, as is so much of Renaissance relief, and the modern relief
that imitates it. Everything in fine that Goujon did is unified with the
rest of his work and identifiable by the mark of style.


III

What do we mean by style? Something, at all events, very different from
manner, in spite of Mr. Hamerton's insistence upon the contrary. Is the
quality in virtue of which--as Mr. Dobson paraphrases Gautier--

  "The bust outlives the throne,
  The coin Tiberius"

the specific personality of the artist who carved the bust or chiselled
the coin that have thus outlived all personality connected with them?
Not that personality is not of the essence of enduring art. It is, on
the contrary, the condition of any vital art whatever. But what gives
the object, once personally conceived and expressed, its currency, its
universality, its eternal interest--speaking to strangers with familiar
vividness, and to posterity as to contemporaries--is something aside
from its personal feeling. And it is this something and not specific
personality that style is. Style is the invisible wind through whose
influence "the lion on the flag" of the Persian poet "moves and
marches." The lion of personality may be painted never so deftly, with
never so much expression, individual feeling, picturesqueness, energy,
charm; it will not move and march save through the rhythmic, waving
influence of style.

Nor is style necessarily the grand style, as Arnold seems to imply, in
calling it "a peculiar recasting and heightening, under a certain
condition of spiritual excitement, of what a man has to say in such a
manner as to add dignity and distinction to it." Perhaps the most
explicit examples of pure style owe their production to spiritual
coolness; and, in any event, the word "peculiar" in a definition begs
the question. Buffon is at once juster and more definite in saying:
"Style is nothing other than the order and movement which we put into
our thoughts." It is singular that this simple and lucid utterance of
Buffon should have been so little noticed by those who have written in
English on style. In general English writers have apparently
misconceived, in very curious fashion, Buffon's other remark, "le style
c'est l'homme;" by which aphorism Buffon merely meant that a man's
individual manner depends on his temperament, his character, and which
he, of course, was very far from suspecting would ever be taken for a
definition.

Following Buffon's idea of "order and movement," we may say, perhaps,
that style results from the preservation in every part of some sense of
the form of the whole. It implies a sense of relations as well as of
statement. It is not mere expression of a thought in a manner peculiar
to the artist (in words, color, marble, what not), but it is such
expression penetrated with both reminiscence and anticipation. It is,
indeed, on the contrary, very nearly the reverse of what we mean by
expression, which is mainly a matter of personal energy. Style means
correctness, precision, that feeling for the _ensemble_ on which an
inharmonious detail jars. Expression results from a sense of the value
of the detail. If Walt Whitman, for example, were what his admirers'
defective sense of style fancies him, he would be expressive. If French
academic art had as little expression as its censors assert, it would
still illustrate style--the quality which modifies the native and
apposite form of the concrete individual thing with reference to what
has preceded and what is to follow it; the quality, in a word, whose
effort is to harmonize the object with its environment. When this
environment is heightened, and universal instead of logical and
particular, we have the "grand style;" but we have the grand style
generally in poetry, and to be sure of style at all prose--such prose as
Goujon's, which in no wise emulates Michael Angelo's poetry--may
justifiably neglect in some degree the specific personality that tends
to make it poetic and individual.


IV

After Goujon, Clodion is the great name in French sculpture, until we
come to Houdon, who may almost be assigned to the nineteenth century.
There were throughout the eighteenth century honorable artists,
sculptors of distinction beyond contest. But sculpture is such an
abstract art itself that the sculpture which partook of the
artificiality of the eighteenth century has less interest for us, less
that is concrete and appealing than even the painting of the epoch. It
derived its canons and its practice from Puget--the French Bernini, who
with less grace and less dilettante extravagance than his Italian
exemplar had more force and solidity. With less cleverness, less
charm--for Bernini, spite of the disesteem in which his juxtaposition to
Michael Angelo and his apparent unconsciousness of the attitude such
juxtaposition should have imposed upon him, cause him to be held, has a
great deal of charm and is extraordinarily clever--he is more sincere,
more thorough-going, more respectable. Coysevox is chiefly Puget
exaggerated, and his pupil, Coustou, who comes down to nearly the middle
of the eighteenth century, contributed nothing to French sculptural
tradition.

But Clodion is a distinct break. He is as different from Coysevox and
Coustou as Watteau is from Lebrun. He is the essence of what we mean by
Louis Quinze. His work is clever beyond characterization. It has in
perfection what sculptors mean by color--that is to say a certain warmth
of feeling, a certain _insouciance_, a brave carelessness for
sculpturesque traditions, a free play of fancy, both in the conception
and execution of his subjects. Like the Louis Quinze painters, he has
his thoughtless, irresponsible, involuntary side, and like them--like
the best of them, that is to say, like Watteau--he is never quite as
good as he could be. He seems not so much concerned at expressing his
ideal as at pleasing, and pleasing people of too frivolous an
appreciation to call forth what is best in him. He devoted himself
almost altogether to terra-cotta, which is equivalent to saying that the
exquisite and not the impressive was his aim. Thoroughly classic, so far
as the avoidance of everything naturalistic is concerned, he is yet as
little severe and correct as the painters of his day. He spent nine
years in Rome, but though enamoured in the most sympathetic degree of
the antique, it was the statuettes and figurines, the gay and social,
the elegant and decorative side of antique sculpture that exclusively he
delighted in. His work is Tanagra Gallicized. It is not the group of
"The Deluge," or the "Entry of the French into Munich," or "Hercules in
Repose," for which he was esteemed by contemporaries or is prized by
posterity. He is admirable where he is inimitable--that is to say, in
the delightful decoration of which he was so prodigal. It is not in his
compositions essaying what is usually meant by sculptural effect, but in
his vases, clocks, pendants, volutes, little reliefs of nymphs riding
dolphins over favoring breakers and amid hospitable foam, his toilettes
of Venus, his façade ornamentations, his applied sculpture, in a word,
that his true talent lies. After him it is natural that we should have a
reversion to quasi-severity and imitation of the antique--just as David
succeeded to the Louis Quinze pictorial riot--and that the French
contemporaries of Canova and Thorwaldsen, those literal, though
enthusiastic illustrators of Winckelmann's theories, should be Pradier
and Etex and the so-called Greek school. Pradier's Greek inspiration has
something Swiss about it, one may say--he was a Genevan--though his
figures were simple and largely treated. He had a keen sense for the
feminine element--the _ewig Weibliche_--and expressed it plastically
with a zest approaching gusto. Yet his statues are women rather than
statues, and, more than that, are handsome rather than beautiful. Etex,
it is to be feared, will be chiefly remembered as the unfortunately
successful rival of Rude in the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile decoration.


V

Having in each case more or less relation with, but really wholly
outside of and superior to all "schools" whatever--except the school of
nature, which permits as much freedom as it exacts fidelity--is the
succession of the greatest of French sculptors since the Renaissance and
down to the present day: Houdon, David d'Angers, Rude, Carpeaux, and
Barye. Houdon is one of the finest examples of the union of vigor with
grace. He will be known chiefly as a portraitist, but such a masterpiece
as his "Diana" shows how admirable he was in the sphere of purely
imaginative theme and treatment. Classic, and even conventionally
classic as it is, both in subject and in the way the subject is
handled--compared for example with M. Falguière's "Nymph Hunting," which
is simply a realistic Diana--it is designed and modelled with as much
personal freedom and feeling as if Houdon had been stimulated by the
ambition of novel accomplishment, instead of that of rendering with
truth and grace a time-honored and traditional sculptural motive. Its
treatment is beautifully educated and its effect refined, chaste, and
elevated in an extraordinary degree. No master ever steered so near the
reef of "clock-tops," one may say, and avoided it so surely and
triumphantly. The figure is light as air and wholly effortless at the
same time. There has rarely been such a distinguished success in
circumventing the great difficulty of sculpture--which is to rob marble
or metal of its specific gravity and make it appear light and buoyant,
just as the difficulty of the painter is to give weight and substance to
his fictions. But Houdon's admirable busts of Molière, Diderot,
Washington, Franklin, and Mirabeau, his unequalled statue of Voltaire in
the _foyer_ of the Français and his San Bruno in Santa Maria degli
Angeli at Rome are the works on which his fame will chiefly rest, and,
owing to their masterly combination of strength with style, rest
securely.

To see the work of David d'Angers, one must go to Angers itself and to
Père-Lachaise. The Louvre is lamentably lacking in anything truly
representative of this most eminent of all portraitists in sculpture, I
think, not excepting even Houdon, if one may reckon the mass as well as
the excellence of his remarkable production and the way in which it
witnesses that portraiture is just what he was born to do. The
"Philopoemen" of the Louvre is a fine work, even impressively large and
simple. But it is the competent work of a member of a school and leaves
one a little cold. Its academic quality quite overshadows whatever
personal feeling one may by searching find in the severity of its
treatment and the way in which a classic motive has been followed out
naturally and genuinely instead of perfunctorily. It gives no intimation
of the faculty that produced the splendid gallery of medallions
accentuated by an occasional bust and statue, of David's celebrated
contemporaries and quasi-contemporaries in every field of distinction.
It is impossible to overestimate the interest and value, the truth and
the art of these. Whether the subject be intractable or not seems to
have made no difference to David. He invariably produced a work of art
at the same time that he expressed the character of its motive with
uncompromising fidelity. His portraits, moreover, are pure sculpture.
There is nothing of the cameo-cutter's art about them. They are modelled
not carved. The outline is no more important than it is in nature, so
far as it is employed to the end of identification. It is used
decoratively. There are surprising effects of fore-shortening,
exhibiting superb, and as it were unconscious ease in handling
relief--that most difficult of illusions in respect of having no law (at
least no law that it is worth the sculptor's while to try to discover)
of correspondence to reality. Forms and masses have a definition and a
firmness wholly remarkable in their independence of the usual low
relief's reliance on pictorial and purely linear design. They do not
blend picturesquely with the background, and do not depend on their
suggestiveness for their character. They are always realized,
executed--sculpture in a word whose suggestiveness, quite as potent as
that of feebler executants, begins only when actual representation has
been triumphantly achieved instead of impotently and skilfully avoided.

Of Rude's genius one's first thought is of its robustness, its
originality. Everything he did is stamped with the impress of his
personality. At the same time it is equally evident that Rude's own
temperament took its color from the transitional epoch in which he
lived, and of which he was _par excellence_ the sculptor. He was the
true inheritor of his Burgundian traditions. His strongest side was that
which allies him with his artistic ancestor, Claux Sluters. But he
lived in an era of general culture and æstheticism, and all his
naturalistic tendencies were complicated with theory. He accepted the
antique not merely as a stimulus, but as a model. He was not only a
sculptor but a teacher, and the formulation of his didacticism
complicated considerably the free exercise of his expression. At the
last, as is perhaps natural, he reverted to precedent and formulary, and
in his "Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter" and his "L'Amour Dominateur du
Monde," is more at variance than anywhere else with his native instinct,
which was, to cite the admirable phrase of M. de Fourcaud, _extérioriser
nos idées et nos âmes_. But throughout his life he halted a little
between two opinions--the current admiration of the classic, and his own
instinctive feeling for nature unsystematized and unsophisticated. His
"Jeanne d'Arc" is an instance. In spite of the violation of tradition,
which at the time it was thought to be, it seems to-day to our eyes to
err on the side of the conventional. It is surely intellectual, classic,
even factitious in conception as well as in execution. In some of its
accessories it is even modish. It illustrates not merely the abstract
turn of conceiving a subject which Rude always shared with the great
classicists of his art, but also the arbitrariness of treatment against
which he always protested. Without at all knowing it, he was in a very
intimate sense an eclectic in many of his works. He believed in forming
a complete mental conception of every composition before even posing a
model, as he used to tell his students, but in complicated compositions
this was impossible, and he had small talent for artificial composition.
Furthermore, he often distrusted--quite without reason, but after the
fatal manner of the rustic--his own intuitions. But one mentions these
qualifications of his genius and accomplishment only because both his
genius and accomplishment are so distinguished as to make one wish they
were more nearly perfect than they are. It is really idle to wish that
Rude had neglected the philosophy of his art, with which he was so much
occupied, and had devoted himself exclusively to treating sculptural
subjects in the manner of a nineteenth century successor of Sluters and
Anthoniet. He might have been a greater sculptor than he was, but he is
sufficiently great as he is. If his "Mercury" is an essay in
conventional sculpture, his "Petit Pêcheur" is frank and free sculptural
handling of natural material. His work at Lille and in Belgium, his
reclining figure of Cavaignac in the cemetery of Montmartre, his noble
figures of Gaspard Monge at Beaune, of Marshal Bertrand, and of Ney, are
all cast in the heroic mould, full of character, and in no wise
dependent on speculative theory. Few sculptors have displayed anything
like his variety and range, which extends, for example, from the
"Baptism of Christ" to a statue of "Louis XIII. enfant," and includes
portraits, groups, compositions in relief, and heroic statues. In all
his successful work one cannot fail to note the force and fire of the
man's personality, and perhaps what one thinks of chiefly in connection
with him is the misfortune which we owe to the vacillation of M. Thiers
of having but one instead of four groups by him on the piers of the Arc
de Triomphe de l'Étoile. Carpeaux used to say that he never passed the
"Chant du Départ" without taking off his hat. One can understand his
feeling. No one can have any appreciation of what sculpture is without
perceiving that this magnificent group easily and serenely takes its
rank among the masterpieces of sculpture of all time. It is, in the
first place, the incarnation of an abstraction, the spirit of patriotism
roused to the highest pitch of warlike intensity and self-sacrifice, and
in the second this abstract motive is expressed in the most elaborate
and comprehensive completeness--with a combined intricacy of detail and
singleness of effect which must be the despair of any but a master in
sculpture.


VI

Carpeaux perhaps never did anything that quite equals the masterpiece of
his master Rude. But the essential quality of the "Chant du Départ" he
assimilated so absolutely and so naturally that he made it in a way his
own. He carried it farther, indeed. If he never rose to the grandeur of
this superb group, and he certainly did not, he nevertheless showed in
every one of his works that he was possessed by its inspiration even
more completely than was Rude himself. His passion was the
representation of life, the vital and vivifying force in its utmost
exuberance, and in its every variety, so far as his experience could
enable him to render it. He was infatuated with movement, with the
attestation in form of nervous energy, of the quick translation of
thought and emotion into interpreting attitude. His figures are, beyond
all others, so thoroughly alive as to seem conscious of the fact and joy
of pure existence. They are animated, one may almost say inspired, with
the delight of muscular activity, the sensation of exercising the
functions with which nature endows them. And accompanying this supreme
motive and effect is a delightful grace and winningness of which few
sculptors have the secret, and which suggest more than any one else
Clodion's decorative loveliness. An even greater charm of sprite-like,
fairy attractiveness, of caressing and bewitching fascination, a more
penetrating and seductive engagingness plays about Carpeaux's "Flora," I
think, than is characteristic even of Clodion's figures and reliefs.
Carpeaux is at all events nearer to us, and if he has not the classic
detachment of Clodion he substitutes for it a quality of closer
attachment and more intimate appeal. He is at his best perhaps in the
"Danse" of the Nouvel Opéra façade, wherein his elfin-like grace and
exuberant vitality animate a group carefully, and even classically
composed, exhibiting skill and restraint as well as movement and fancy.
Possibly his temperament gives itself too free a rein in the group of
the Luxembourg Gardens, in which he has been accused by his own admirers
of sacrificing taste to turbulence and securing expressiveness at the
expense of saner and more truly sculptural aims. But fancy the
Luxembourg Gardens without "The Four Quarters of the World supporting
the Earth." Parisian censure of his exuberance is very apt to display a
conventional standard of criticism in the critic rather than to
substantiate its charge.

Barye's place in the history of art is more nearly unique, perhaps, than
that of any of the great artists. He was certainly one of the greatest
of sculptors, and he had either the good luck or the mischance to do
his work in a field almost wholly unexploited before him. He has in his
way no rivals, and in his way he is so admirable that the scope of his
work does not even hint at his exclusion from rivalry with the very
greatest of his predecessors. A perception of the truth of this apparent
paradox is the nearest one may come, I think, to the secret of his
excellence. No matter what you do, if you do it well enough, that is,
with enough elevation, enough spiritual distinction, enough
transmutation of the elementary necessity of technical perfection into
true significance--you succeed. And this is not the sense in which
motive in art is currently belittled. It is rather the suggestion of
Mrs. Browning's lines:

              "Better far
  Pursue a frivolous trade by serious means
  Than a sublime art frivolously."

Nothing could be more misleading than to fancy Barye a kind of modern
Cellini. Less than any sculptor of modern times is he a decorative
artist. The small scale of his works is in great part due to his lack of
opportunity to produce larger ones. Nowadays one does what one can, even
the greatest artists; and Barye had no Lorenzo de'Medici for a patron,
but, instead, a frowning Institute, which confined him to such work as,
in the main, he did. He did it _con amore_ it need not be added, and
thus lifted it at once out of the customary category of such work. His
bronzes were never _articles de Paris_, and their excellence transcends
the function of teaching our sculptors and amateurs the lesson that
"household" is as dignified a province as monumental, art. His groups
are not essentially "clock-tops," and the work of perhaps the greatest
artist, in the line from Jean Goujon to Carpeaux can hardly be used to
point the moral that "clock-tops" ought to be good. Cellini's "Perseus"
is really more of a "parlor ornament" than Barye's smallest figure.

Why is he so obviously great as well as so obviously extraordinary? one
constantly asks himself in the presence of his bronzes. Perhaps because
he expresses with such concreteness, such definiteness and vigor a
motive so purely an abstraction. The illustration in intimate
elaboration of elemental force, strength, passion, seems to have been
his aim, and in everyone of his wonderfully varied groups he attains it
superbly--not giving the beholder a symbol of it merely; in no degree
depending upon association or convention, but exhibiting its very
essence with a combined scientific explicitness and poetic energy to
which antique art alone, one may almost say, has furnished a parallel.
For this, fauna served him as well as the human figure, though, could
he have studied man with the facility which the Jardin des Plantes
afforded him of observing the lower animals, he might have used the
medium of the human figure more frequently than he did. When he did, he
was hardly less successful; and the four splendid groups that decorate
the Pavillons Denon and Richelieu of the Louvre are in the very front
rank of the heroic sculpture of the modern world.



V


ACADEMIC SCULPTURE


I

From Barye to the Institute is a long way. Nothing could be more
interhostile than his sculpture and that of the professors at the École
des Beaux-Arts. And in considering the French sculpture of the present
day we may say that, aside from the great names already
mentioned--Houdon, David d'Angers, Rude, Carpeaux, and Barye--and apart
from the new movement represented by Rodin and Dalou, it is represented
by the Institute, and that the Institute has reverted to the Italian
inspiration. The influence of Canova and the example of Pradier and Etex
were not lasting. Indeed, Greek sculpture has perished so completely
that it sometimes seems to live only in its legend. With the modern
French school, the academic school, it is quite supplanted by the
sculpture of the Renaissance. And this is not unreasonable. The
Renaissance sculpture is modern; its masters did finely and perfectly
what since their time has been done imperfectly, but essentially its
artistic spirit is the modern artistic spirit, full of personality,
full of expression, careless of the type. Nowadays we patronize a little
the ideal. You may hear very intelligent critics in Paris--who in Paris
is not an intelligent critic?--speak disparagingly of the Greek want of
expression; of the lack of passion, of vivid interest, of significance
in a word, in Greek sculpture of the Periclean epoch. The conception of
absolute beauty having been discovered to be an abstraction, the
tradition of the purely ideal has gone with it. The caryatids of the
Erechtheum, the horsemen of the Parthenon frieze, the reliefs of the
Nike Apteros balustrade are admired certainly; but they are hardly
sympathetically admired; there is a tendency to relegate them to the
limbo of subjects for æsthetic lectures. And yet no one can have
carefully examined the brilliant productions of modern French sculpture
without being struck by this apparent paradox: that, whereas all its
canons are drawn from a study of the Renaissance, its chief
characteristic is, at bottom, a lack of expression, a carefulness for
the type. The explanation is this: in the course of time, which "at last
makes all things even," the individuality, the romanticism of the
Renaissance has itself become the type, is now itself become
"classical," and the modern attitude toward it, however sympathetic
compared with the modern attitude toward the antique, is to a noteworthy
degree factitious and artificial. And in art everything depends upon
the attitude of mind. It is this which prevents Ingres from being truly
Raphaelesque, and Pradier from being really classical. If, therefore, it
can justly be said of modern French sculpture that its sympathy for the
Renaissance sculpture obscures its vision of the ideal, it is clearly to
be charged with the same absence of individual significance with which
its thick-and-thin partisans reproach the antique. The circumstance
that, like the Renaissance sculpture, it deals far more largely in
pictorial expression than the antique does, is, if it deals in them
after the Renaissance fashion and not after a fashion of its own, quite
beside the essential fact. There is really nothing in common between an
academic French sculptor of the present day and an Italian sculptor of
the fifteenth century, except the possession of what is called the
modern spirit. But the modern spirit manifests itself in an enormous
gamut, and the differences of its manifestations are as great in their
way, and so far as our interest in them is concerned, as the difference
between their inspiration and the mediæval or the antique inspiration.


II

Chapu, who died a year or two ago, is perhaps the only eminent sculptor
of the time whose inspiration is clearly the antique, and when I add
that his work appears to me for this reason none the less original, it
will be immediately perceived that I share imperfectly the French
objection to the antique. Indeed, nowadays to have the antique
inspiration is to be original _ex vi termini_; nothing is farther
removed from contemporary conventions. But this is true in a much more
integral sense. The pre-eminent fact of Greek sculpture, for example,
is, from one point of view, the directness with which it concerns itself
with the ideal--the slight temporary or personal element with which it
is alloyed. When one calls an artist or a work Greek, this is what is
really meant; it is the sense in which Raphael is Greek. Chapu is Greek
in this way, and thus individualized among his contemporaries, not only
by having a different inspiration from them, but by depending for his
interest on no convention fixed or fleeting and on no indirect support
of accentuated personal characteristics. Perhaps the antiquary of a
thousand years from now, to whom the traits which to us distinguish so
clearly the work of certain sculptors who seem to have nothing in
common will betray only their common inspiration, will be even less at a
loss than ourselves to find traces of a common origin in such apparently
different works as Chapu's "Mercury" and his "Jeunesse" of the Regnault
monument. He will by no means confound these with the classical
productions of M. Millet or M. Cavelier, we may be sure. And this, I
repeat, because their purely Greek spirit, the subordination in their
conception and execution of the personal element, the direct way in
which the sculptor looks at the ideal, the type, not only distinguish
them among contemporary works, which are so largely personal
expressions, but give them an eminent individuality as well. Like the
Greek sculpture, they are plainly the production of culture, which in
restraining wilfulness, however happily inspired, and imposing measure
and poise, nevertheless acutely stimulates and develops the faculties
themselves. The skeptic who may very plausibly inquire the distinction
between that vague entity, "the ideal," and the personal idea of the
artist concerned with it, can be shown this distinction better than it
can be expressed in words. He will appreciate it very readily, to return
to Chapu, by contrasting the "Jeanne d'Arc" at the Luxembourg Gallery
with such different treatment of the same theme as M. Bastien-Lepage's
picture, now in the New York Metropolitan Museum, illustrates. Contrary
to his almost invariable practice of neglecting even design in favor of
impersonal natural representation, Bastien-Lepage's "Jeanne d'Arc" is
the creature of wilful originality, a sort of embodied protest against
conventionalism in historical painting; she is the illustration of a
theory, she is this and that systematically and not spontaneously; the
predominance of the painter's personality is plain in every detail of
his creation. Chapu's "Maid" is the ideal, more or less perfectly
expressed; she is everybody's "Maid," more or less adequately embodied.
The statue is the antipodes of the conventional much more so, even, to
our modern sense, than that of Rude; it suggests no competition with
that at Versailles or the many other characterless conceptions that
abound. It is full of expression--arrested just before it ceases to be
suggestive; of individuality restrained on the hither side of
peculiarity. The "Maid" is hearing her "voices" as distinctly as
Bastien-Lepage's figure is, but the fact is not forced upon the sense,
but is rather disclosed to the mind with great delicacy and the dignity
becoming sculpture. No one could, of course, mistake this work for an
antique--an error that might possibly be made, supposing the conditions
favorable, in the case of Chapu's "Mercury;" but it presents,
nevertheless, an excellent illustration of a modern working naturally
and freely in the antique spirit. It is as affecting, as full of direct
appeal, as a modern work essays to be; but its appeal is to the sense of
beauty, to the imagination, and its effect is wrought in virtue of its
art and not of its reality. No, individuality is no more inconsistent
with the antique spirit than it is with eccentricity, with the
extravagances of personal expression. Is there more individuality in a
thirteenth-century grotesque than in the "Faun" of the Capitol? For
sculpture especially, art is eminently, as it has been termed, "the
discipline of genius," and it is only after the sculptor's genius has
submitted to the discipline of culture that it evinces an individuality
which really counts, which is really thrown out in relief on the
background of crude personality. And if there be no question of
perfection, but only of the artist's attitude, one has but to ask
himself the real meaning of the epithet Shakespearian to be assured of
the harmony between individuality and the most impersonal practice.

Nevertheless, this attitude and this perfection, characteristic as they
are of Chapu's work, have their peril. When the quickening impulse, of
whose expression they are after all but conditions, fails, they suddenly
appear so misplaced as to render insignificant what would otherwise have
seemed "respectable" enough work. Everywhere else of great
distinction--even in the execution of so perfunctory a task as a
commission for a figure of "Mechanical Art" in the Tribunal de
Commerce--at the great Triennial Exposition of 1883 Chapu was simply
insignificant. There was never a more striking illustration of the
necessity of constant renewal of inspiration, of the constant danger of
lapse into the perfunctory and the hackneyed, which threatens an artist
of precisely Chapu's qualities. Another of equal eminence escapes this
peril; there is not the same interdependence of form and "content" to be
disturbed by failure in the latter; or, better still, the merits of form
are not so distinguished as to require imperatively a corresponding
excellence of intention. In fact, it is because of the exceptional
position that he occupies in deriving from the antique, instead of
showing the academic devotion to Renaissance romanticism which
characterizes the general movement of academic French sculpture, that in
any consideration of this sculpture Chapu's work makes a more vivid
impression than that of his contemporaries, and thus naturally takes a
foremost place.


III

M. Paul Dubois, for example, in the characteristics just alluded to,
presents the greatest possible contrast to Chapu; but he will never, we
may be sure, give us a work that could be called insignificant. His
work will always express himself, and his is a personality of very
positive idiosyncrasy. M. Dubois, indeed, is probably the strongest of
the Academic group of French sculptors of the day. The tomb of General
Lamoricière at Nantes has remained until recently one of the very finest
achievements of sculpture in modern times. There is in effect nothing
markedly superior in the Cathedral of St. Denis, which is a great deal
to say--much more, indeed, than the glories of the Italian Renaissance,
which lead us out of mere momentum to forget the French, permit one to
appreciate. Indeed, the sculpture of M. Dubois seems positively to have
but one defect, a defect which from one point of view is certainly a
quality, the defect of impeccability. It is at any rate impeccable; to
seek in it a blemish, or, within its own limitations, a distinct
shortcoming, is to lose one's pains. As workmanship, and workmanship of
the subtler kind, in which every detail of surface and structure is
perceived to have been intelligently felt (though rarely
enthusiastically rendered), it is not merely satisfactory, but visibly
and beautifully perfect. But in the category in which M. Dubois is to be
placed that is very little; it is always delightful, but it is not
especially complimentary to M. Dubois, to occupy one's self with it. On
the other hand, by impeccability is certainly not here meant the mere
success of expressing what one has to express--the impeccability of
Canova and his successors, for example. The difficulty is with M.
Dubois's ideal, with what he so perfectly expresses. In the last
analysis this is not his ideal more than ours. And this, indeed, is what
makes his work so flawless in our eyes, so impeccable. It seems as if of
what he attempts he attains the type itself; everyone must recognize its
justness.

The reader will say at once here that I am cavilling at M. Dubois for
what I praised in Chapu. But let us distinguish. The two artists belong
to wholly different categories. Chapu's inspiration is the antique
spirit. M. Dubois, is, like all academic French sculptors, except Chapu
indeed, absolutely and integrally a romanticist, completely enamoured of
the Renaissance. The two are so distinct as to be contradictory. The
moment M. Dubois gives us the _type_ in a "Florentine Minstrel," to the
exclusion of the personal and the particular, he fails in
imaginativeness and falls back on the conventional. The _type_ of a
"Florentine Minstrel" is infallibly a convention. M. Dubois, not being
occupied directly with the ideal, is bound to carry his subject and its
idiosyncrasies much farther than the observer could have foreseen. To
rest content with expressing gracefully and powerfully the notion common
to all connoisseurs is to fall short of what one justly exacts of the
romantic artist. Indeed, in exchange for this one would accept very
faulty work in this category with resignation. Whatever we may say or
think, however we may admire or approve, in romantic art the quality
that charms, that fascinates, is not adequacy but unexpectedness. In
addition to the understanding, the instinct demands satisfaction. The
virtues of "Charity" and "Faith" and the ideas of "Military Courage" and
"Meditation" could not be more adequately illustrated than by the
figures which guard the solemn dignity of General Lamoricière's sleep.
There is a certain force, a breadth of view in the general conception,
something in the way in which the sculptor has taken his task, closely
allied to real grandeur. The confident and even careless dependence upon
the unaided value of its motive, making hardly any appeal to the fancy
on the one hand, and seeking no poignant effect on the other, endues the
work with the poise and purity of effortless strength. It conveys to the
mind a clear impression of manliness, of qualities morally refreshing.

But such work educates us so inexorably, teaches us to be so exacting!
After enjoying it to its and our utmost, we demand still something else,
something more moving, more stirring, something more directly appealing
to our impulse and instinct. Even in his free and charming little "St.
John Baptist" of the Luxembourg, and his admirable bust of Baudry one
feels like asking for more freedom still, for more "swing." Dubois
certainly is the last artist who needs to be on his guard against
"letting himself go." Why is it that in varying so agreeably Renaissance
themes--compare the "Military Courage" and Michael Angelo's "Pensiero,"
or the "Charity" and the same group in Della Quercia's fountain at
Sienna--it is restraint, rather than audacity, that governs him? Is it
caution or perversity? In a word, imaginativeness is what permanently
interests and attaches, the imaginativeness to which in sculpture the
ordinary conventions of form are mere conditions, and the ordinary
conventions of idea mere material. One can hardly apply generalities of
the kind to M. Dubois without saying too much, but it is nevertheless
true that one may illustrate the grand style and yet fail of being
intimately and acutely sympathetic; and M. Dubois, to whose largeness of
treatment and nobility of conception no one will deny something truly
suggestive of the grand style, does thus fail. It is not that he does
not possess charm, and charm in no mean proportion to his largeness and
nobility, but for the elevation of these into the realm of magic, into
the upper air of spontaneous spiritual activity, his imagination has,
for the romantic imagination which it is, a trifle too much
self-possession--too much sanity, if one chooses. He has the ambitions,
the faculties, of a lyric poet, and he gives us too frequently
recitative.


IV

It is agreeable in many ways to turn from the rounded and complete
impeccability of M. Dubois to the fancy of M. Saint-Marceaux. More than
any of his rivals, M. Saint-Marceaux possesses the charm of
unexpectedness. He is not perhaps to be called an original genius, and
his work will probably leave French sculpture very nearly where it found
it. Indeed, one readily perceives that he is not free from the trammels
of contemporary convention. But how easily he wears them, and if no
"severe pains and birth-throes" accompany the evolution of his
conceptions, how graceful these conceptions are! They are perhaps of the
Canova family; the "Harlequin," for instance, which has had such a
prodigious success, is essentially Milanese sculpture; essentially even
the "Genius Guarding the Secret of the Tomb" is a fantastic rather than
an original work. But how the manner, the treatment, triumphs over the
Canova insipidity! It is not only Milanese sculpture better done, the
execution beautifully sapient and truthful instead of cheaply imitative,
the idea broadly enforced by the details instead of frittered away among
them; it is Milanese sculpture essentially elevated and dignified.
Loosely speaking, the mere _article de vertu_ becomes a true work of
art. And this transformation, or rather this development of a germ of
not too great intrinsic importance, is brought about in the work of
Saint-Marceaux by the presence of an element utterly foreign to the
Canova sculpture and its succession--the element of character. If to the
clever workmanship of the Italians he merely opposed workmanship of a
superior kind as well as quality--thoroughly artistic workmanship, that
is to say--his sculpture would be far less interesting than it is. He
does, indeed, noticeably do this; there is a felicity entirely
delightful, almost magical, in every detail of his work. But when one
compares it with the sculpture of M. Dubois, it is not of this that one
thinks so much as of a certain individual character with which M.
Saint-Marceaux always contrives to endue it. This is not always in its
nature sculptural, it must be admitted, and it approaches perhaps too
near the character of _genre_ to have the enduring interest that purely
sculptural qualities possess. But it is always individual, piquant, and
charming, and in it consists M. Saint-Marceaux's claim upon us as an
artist. No one else, even given his powers of workmanship, that is to
say as perfectly equipped as he, could have treated so thoroughly
conventional a _genre_ subject as the "Harlequin" as he has treated it.
The mask is certainly one of the stock properties of the subject, but
notice how it is used to confer upon the whole work a character of
mysterious witchery. It is as a whole, if you choose, an _article de
Paris_, with the distinction of being seriously treated; the modelling
and the movement admirable as far as they go, but well within the bounds
of that anatomically artistic expression which is the _raison d'être_ of
sculpture and its choice of the human form as its material. But the
character saves it from this category; what one may almost call its
psychological interest redeems its superficial triviality.

M. Saint-Marceaux is always successful in this way. One has only to look
at the eyes of his figures to be convinced how subtle is his art of
expressing character. Here he swings quite clear of all convention and
manifests his genius positively and directly. The unfathomable secret of
the tomb is in the spiritual expression of the guarding genius, and the
elaborately complex movement concentrated upon the urn and directly
inspired by the ephebes of the Sistine ceiling is a mere blind. The same
is true of the portrait heads which within his range M. Saint Marceaux
does better than almost anyone. M. Renan's "Confessions" hardly convey
as distinct a notion of character as his bust exhibited at the Triennial
of 1883. Many of the sculptors' anonymous heads, so to speak, are
hardly less remarkable. Long after the sharp edge of one's interest in
the striking pose of his "Harlequin" and the fine movement and bizarre
features of his "Genius" has worn away, their curious spiritual
interest, the individual _cachet_ of their character, will sustain them.
And so integrally true is this of all the productions of M.
Saint-Marceaux's talent, that it is quite as perceptible in works where
it is not accentuated and emphasized as it is in those of which I have
been speaking; it is a quality that will bear refining, that is even
better indeed in its more subtle manifestations. The figure of the
Luxembourg Gallery, the young Dante reading Virgil, is an example; a
girl's head, the forehead swathed in a turban, first exhibited some
years ago, is another. The charm of these is more penetrating, though
they are by no means either as popular or as "important" works as the
"Genius of the Tomb" or the "Harlequin." In the time to come M.
Saint-Marceaux will probably rely more and more on their quality of
grave and yet alert distinction, and less on striking and eccentric
variations of themes from Michael Angelo like the "Genius," and
illustrations like the "Harlequin" of the artistic potentialities of the
Canova sculpture.

With considerably less force than M. Dubois and decidedly less piquancy
than M. Saint-Marceaux, M. Antonin Mercié has perhaps greater
refinement than either. His outline is a trifle softer, his sentiment
more gracious, more suave. His work is difficult to characterize
satisfactorily, and the fact may of course proceed from its lack of
force, as well as from the well-understood difficulty of translating
into epithets anything so essentially elusive as suavity and grace of
form. At one epoch in any examination of academic French sculpture that
of M. Mercié seems the most interesting; it is so free from exaggeration
of any kind on the one hand, it realizes its idea so satisfactorily on
the other, and this idea is so agreeable, so refined, and at the same
time so dignified. The "David" is an early work now in the Luxembourg
gallery, reproductions of which are very popular, and the reader may
judge how well it justifies these remarks. Being an early work, one
cannot perhaps insist on its originality; in France, a young sculptor
must be original at his peril; his education is so complete, he must
have known and studied the beauties of classic sculpture so thoroughly,
that not to be impressed by them so profoundly as to display his
appreciativeness in his first work is apt to argue a certain
insensitiveness. And every one cannot have creative genius. What a
number of admirable works we should be compelled to forego if creative
genius were demanded of an artist of the present day when the best
minds of the time are occupied with other things than art! One is apt to
forget that in our day the minds that correspond with the artistic
miracles of the Renaissance are absorbed in quite different departments
of effort. M. Mercié's "David" would perhaps never have existed but for
Donatello's. As far as plastic motive is concerned, it may without
injustice be called a variant of that admirable creation, and from every
point of view except that of dramatic grace it is markedly inferior to
its inspiration; as an embodiment of triumphant youth, of the divine
ease with which mere force is overcome, it has only a superficial
resemblance to the original.

But if with M. Mercié "David" was simply a classic theme to be treated,
which is exactly what it of course was not with Donatello, it is
undeniable that he has expressed himself very distinctly in his
treatment. A less sensitive artist would have vulgarized instead of
merely varying the conception, whereas one can easily see in M. Mercié's
handling of it the ease, science, and felicitous movement that have
since expressed themselves more markedly, more positively, but hardly
more unmistakably, in the sculptor's maturer works. Of these the chief
is perhaps the "Gloria Victis," which now decorates the Square
Montholon; and its identity of authorship with the "David" is apparent
in spite of its structural complexity and its far greater importance
both in subject and execution. Its subject is the most inspiring that a
French sculptor since the events of 1870-71 (so lightly considered by
those who only see the theatric side of French character) could treat.
Its general interest, too, is hardly inferior; there is something
generally ennobling in the celebration of the virtues of the brave
defeated that surpasses the commonplace of pæans. M. Mercié was, in this
sense, more fortunate than the sculptor to whom the Berlinese owe the
bronze commemoration of their victory. Perhaps to call his treatment
entirely worthy of the theme, is to forget the import of such works as
the tombs of the Medici Chapel at Florence. There is a region into whose
precincts the dramatic quality penetrates only to play an insufficient
part. But in modern art to do more than merely to keep such truths in
mind, to insist on satisfactory plastic illustrations of them, is not
only to prepare disappointment for one's self, but to risk misjudging
admirable and elevated effort; and to regret the fact that France had
only M. Mercié and not Michael Angelo to celebrate her "Gloria Victis"
is to commit both of these errors. After all, the subjects are
different, and the events of 1870-71 had compensations for France which
the downfall of Florentine liberty was without; so that, indeed, a note
of unmixed melancholy, however lofty its strain, would have been a
discord which M. Mercié has certainly avoided. He has avoided it in
rather a marked way, it is true. His monument is dramatic and stirring
rather than inwardly moving. It is rhetorical rather than truly poetic;
and the admirable quality of its rhetoric, its complete freedom from
vulgar or sentimental alloy--its immense superiority to Anglo-Saxon
rhetoric, in fine--does not conceal the truth that it is rhetoric, that
it is prose and not poetry after all. Mercié's "Gloria Victis" is very
fine; I know nothing so fine in modern sculpture outside of France. But
then there is not very much that is fine at all in modern sculpture
outside of France; and modern French sculpture, and M. Mercié along with
it as one of its most eminent ornaments, have made it impossible to
speak of them in a relative way. The antique and the Renaissance
sculpture alone furnish their fit association, and like the Renaissance
and the antique sculpture they demand a positive and absolute, and not a
comparative criticism.


V

Well, then, speaking thus absolutely and positively, the cardinal defect
of the Institute sculpture--and the refined and distinguished work of M.
Mercié better perhaps than almost any other assists us to see this--is
its over-carefulness for style. This is indeed the explanation of what I
mentioned at the outset as the chief characteristic of this sculpture,
the academic inelasticity, namely, with which it essays to reproduce the
Renaissance romanticism. But for the fondness for style integral in the
French mind and character, it would perceive the contradiction between
this romanticism and any canons except such as are purely intuitive and
indefinable. In comparison with the Renaissance sculptors, the French
academic sculptors of the present day are certainly too exclusive
devotees of Buffon's "order and movement," and too little occupied with
the thought itself--too little individual. In comparison with the
antique, this is less apparent, but I fancy not less real. We are so
accustomed to think of the antique as the pure and simple embodiment of
style, as a sublimation, so to speak of the individual into style
itself, that in this respect we are scarcely fair judges of the antique.
In any case we know very little of it; we can hardly speak of it except
by periods. But it is plain that the Greek is so superior to any
subsequent sculpture in this one respect of style that we rarely think
of its other qualities. Our judgment is inevitably a comparative one,
and inevitably a comparative judgment fixes our attention on the Greek
supremacy of style. Indeed, in looking at the antique the thought
itself is often alien to us, and the order and movement, being more
nearly universal perhaps, are all that occupy us. A family tombstone
lying in the cemetery at Athens, and half buried in the dust which blows
from the Piræus roadway, has more style than M. Mercié's "Quand-Même"
group for Belfort, which has been the subject of innumerable encomiums,
and which has only style and no individuality whatever to commend it.
And the Athenian tombstone was probably furnished to order by the
marble-cutting artist of the period, corresponding to those whose signs
one sees at the entrances of our own large cemeteries. Still we may be
sure that the ordinary Athenian citizen who adjudged prizes between
Æschylus and Sophocles, and to whom Pericles addressed the oration which
only exceptional culture nowadays thoroughly appreciates, found plenty
of individuality in the decoration of the Parthenon, and was perfectly
conscious of the difference between Phidias and his pupils. Even now, if
one takes the pains to think of it, the difference between such works as
the so-called "Genius" of the Vatican and the Athenian marbles, or
between the Niobe group at Florence and the Venus torso at Naples, for
example, seems markedly individual enough, though the element of style
is still to our eyes the most prominent quality in each. Indeed, if one
really reflects upon the subject, it will not seem exaggeration to say
that to anyone who has studied both with any thoroughness it would be
more difficult to individualize the mass of modern French sculpture than
even that of the best Greek epoch--the epoch when style was most
perfect, when its reign was, as it sometimes appears to us, most
absolute. And if we consider the Renaissance sculpture, its complexity
is so great, its individuality is so pronounced, that one is apt to lose
sight of the important part which style really plays in it. In a work by
Donatello we see first of all his thought; in a Madonna of Mino's it is
the idea that charms us; the Delia Robbia frieze at Pistoja is pure
_genre_.

But modern academic French sculpture feels the weight of De Musset's
handicap--it is born too late into a world too old. French art in
general feels this, I think, and painting suffers from it equally with
sculpture. Culture, the Institute, oppress individuality. But whereas
Corot and Millet have triumphed over the Institute there are--there
were, at least, till yesterday--hardly any Millets and Corots of
sculpture whose triumph is as yet assured. The tendency, the weight of
authority, the verdict of criticism, always conservative in France, are
all the other way. At the École des Beaux-Arts one learns, negatively,
not to be ridiculous. This is a great deal; it is more than can be
learned anywhere else nowadays--witness German, Italian, above all
English exhibitions. Positively one learns the importance of style; and
if it were not for academic French sculpture, one would say that this
was something the importance of which could not be exaggerated. But in
academic French sculpture it is exaggerated, and, what is fatal, one
learns to exaggerate it in the schools. The traditions of Houdon are
noticeably forgotten. Not that Houdon's art is not eminently
characterized by style; the "San Bruno" at Rome is in point of style an
antique. But compare his "Voltaire" in the foyer of the Comédie
Française with Chapu's "Berryer" of the Palais de Justice, to take one
of the very finest portrait-statues of the present day. Chapu's statue
is more than irreproachable, it is elevated and noble, it is in the
grand style; but it is plain that its impressiveness is due to the fact
that the subject is conceived as the Orator in general and handled with
almost a single eye to style. The personal interest that accentuates
every detail of the "Voltaire"--the physiognomy, the pose, the right
hand, are marvellously characteristic--simply is not sought for in
Chapu's work. Of this quality there is more in Houdon's bust of Molière,
whom of course Houdon never saw, than in almost any production of the
modern school. Chapu's works, and such exceptions as the heads of Baudry
and Renan already mentioned, apart, one perceives that the modern
school has made too many statues of the République, too many "Ledas" and
"Susannahs" and "Quand-Mêmes" and "Gloria Victis." And its penchant for
Renaissance canons only emphasizes the absolute commonplace of many of
these.

On the other hand, if Houdon's felicitous harmony of style and
individual force are forgotten, there is hardly any recognized
succession to the imaginative freedom, the _verve_, the triumphant
personal fertility of Rude and Carpeaux. At least, such as there is has
not preserved the dignity and in many instances scarcely the decorum of
those splendid artists. Much of the sculpture which figures at the
yearly Salons is, to be sure, the absolute negation of style; its main
characteristic is indeed eccentricity; its main virtues, sincerity
(which in art, of course, is only a very elementary virtue) and good
modelling (which in sculpture is equally elementary). Occasionally in
the midst of this display of fantasticality there is a work of promise
or even of positive interest. The observer who has not a weak side for
the graceful conceits, invariably daintily presented and beautifully
modelled, of M. Moreau-Vauthier for example, must be hard to please;
they are of the very essence of the _article de Paris_, and only
abnormal primness can refuse to recognize the truth that the _article
de Paris_ has its art side. M. Moreau-Vauthier is not perhaps a modern
Cellini; he has certainly never produced anything that could be classed
with the "Perseus" of the Loggia de' Lanzi, or even with the
Fontainebleau "Diana;" but he does more than anyone else to keep alive
the tradition of Florentine preciosity, and about everything he does
there is something delightful.

Still the fantastic has not made much headway in the Institute, and it
is so foreign to the French genius, which never tolerates it after it
has ceased to be novel, that it probably never will. It is a great
tribute to French "catholicity of mind and largeness of temper" that
Carpeaux's "La Danse" remains in its position on the façade of the Grand
Opéra. French sentiment regarding it was doubtless accurately expressed
by the fanatic who tried to ink it indelibly after it was first exposed.
This vandal was right from his point of view--the point of view of
style. Almost the one work of absolute spontaneity among the hundreds
which without and within decorate M. Garnier's edifice, it is thus a
distinct jar in the general harmony; it distinctly mars the "order and
movement" of M. Garnier's thought, which is fundamentally opposed to
spontaneity. But imagine the devotion to style of a _milieu_ in which a
person who would throw ink on a confessedly fine work of art is
actuated by an impersonal dislike of incongruity! Dislike of the
incongruous is almost a French passion, and, like all qualities, it has
its defect, the defect of tolerating the conventional. It is through
this tolerance, for example, that one of the freest of French critics of
art, a true Voltairian, Stendhal, was led actually to find Guido's ideal
of beauty higher than Raphael's, and to miss entirely the grandeur of
Tintoretto. Critical opinion in France has not changed radically since
Stendhal's day.


VI

The French sculptor may draw his inspiration from the sources of
originality itself, his audience will measure the result by conventions.
It is this fact undoubtedly that is largely responsible for the
over-carefulness for style already remarked. Hence the work of M.
Aimé-Millet and of Professors Guillaume and Cavelier, and the fact that
they are professors. Hence also the election of M. Falguière to succeed
to the chair of the Beaux-Arts left vacant by the death of Jouffroy some
years ago. All of these have done admirable work. Professor Guillaume's
Gracchi group at the Luxembourg is alone enough to atone for a mass of
productions of which the "Castalian Fount" of a recent Salon is the
cold and correct representative. Cavalier's "Gluck," destined for the
Opéra, is spirited, even if a trifle galvanic. Millet's "Apollo," which
crowns the main gable of the Opéra, stands out among its author's other
works as a miracle of grace and rhythmic movement. M. Falguière's
admirers, and they are numerous, will object to the association here
made. Falguière's range has always been a wide one, and everything he
has done has undoubtedly merited a generous portion of the prodigious
encomiums it has invariably obtained. Yet, estimating it in any other
way than by energy, variety, and mass, it is impossible to praise it
highly with precision. It is too plainly the work of an artist who can
do one thing as well as another, and of which cleverness is, after all,
the spiritual standard. Bartholdi, who also should not be forgotten in
any sketch of French sculpture, would, I am sure, have acquitted himself
more satisfactorily than Falguière did in the colossal groups of the
Trocadéro and the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. To acquit himself
satisfactorily is Bartholdi's specialty. These two groups are the
largest and most important that a sculptor can have to do. The crowning
of the Arc de Triomphe at least was a splendid opportunity. Neither of
them had any distinction of outline, of mass, of relation, or of idea.
Both were conventional to the last degree. That on the Arc had even its
ludicrous details, such as occur only from artistic absent-mindedness in
a work conceived and executed in a fatigued and hackneyed spirit. The
"Saint Vincent de Paul" of the Panthéon, which justly passes for the
sculptor's _chef-d'oeuvre_ is in idea a work of large humanity. M.
Falguière is behind no one in ability to conceive a subject of this kind
with propriety, and his subject here is inspiring if ever a subject was.
The "Petit Martyr" of the Luxembourg has a real charm, but it too is
content with too little, as one finds out in seeing it often; and it is
in no sense a large work, scarcely larger than the tiresomely popular
"Running Boy" of the same museum, which nevertheless in its day marked
an epoch in modelling. Indeed, so slight is the spiritual hold that M.
Falguière has on one, that it really seems as if he were at his best in
such a frankly carnal production as his since variously modified "Nymph
Hunting" of the Triennial Exposition of 1883. The idea is nothing or
next to nothing, but the surface _faire_ is superb.

M. Barrias, M. Delaplanche, and M. Le Feuvre have each of them quite as
much spontaneity as M. Falguière, though the work of neither is as
important in mass and variety. M. Delaplanche is always satisfactory,
and beyond this there is something large about what he does that confers
dignity even in the absence of quick interest. His proportions are
simple, his outline flowing, and the agreeable ease of his compositions
makes up to a degree for any lack of sympathetic sentiment or impressive
significance: witness his excellent "Maternal Instruction," of the
little park in front of Sainte Clothilde. M. Le Feuvre's qualities are
very nearly the reverse of these: he has a fondness for integrity quite
hostile in his case to simplicity. In his very frank appeal to one's
susceptibility he is a little careless of sculptural considerations,
which he is prone to sacrifice to pictorial ends. The result is a
mannerism that in the end ceases to impress, and even becomes
disagreeable. As nearly as may be in a French sculptor it borders on
sentimentality, and finally the swaying attitudes of his figures become
limp, and the startled-fawn eyes of his maidens and youths appear less
touching than lackadaisical. But his being himself too conscious of it
should not obscure the fact that he has a way of his own. M. Barrias is
an artist of considerably greater powers than either M. Le Feuvre or M.
Delaplanche; but one has a vague perception that his powers are limited,
and that to desire in his case what one so sincerely wishes in the case
of M. Dubois, namely, that he would "let himself go," would be unwise.
Happily, when he is at his best there is no temptation to form such a
wish. The "Premières Funérailles" is a superb work--"the chef-d'oeuvre
of our modern sculpture," a French critic enthusiastically terms it. It
is hardly that; it has hardly enough spiritual distinction--not quite
enough of either elegance or elevation--to merit such sweeping praise.
But it may be justly termed, I think, the most completely representative
of the masterpieces of that sculpture. Its triumph over the prodigious
difficulties of elaborate composition "in the round"--difficulties to
which M. Barrias succumbed in the "Spartacus" of the Tuileries
Gardens--and its success in subordinating the details of a group to the
end of enforcing a single motive, preserving the while their individual
interest, are complete. Nothing superior in this respect has been done
since John of Bologna's "Rape of the Sabines."


VII

M. Emmanuel Frémiet occupies a place by himself. There have been but two
modern sculptors who have shown an equally pronounced genius for
representing animals--namely, Barye, of course, and Barye's clever but
not great pupil, Cain. The tigress in the Central Park, perhaps the best
bronze there (the competition is not exacting), and the best also of the
several variations of the theme of which, at one time, the sculptor
apparently could not tire, familiarizes Americans with the talent of
Cain. In this association Rouillard, whose horse in the Trocadéro
Gardens is an animated and elegant work, ought to be mentioned, but it
is hardly as good as the neighboring elephant of Frémiet as mere animal
representation (the _genre_ exists and has excellences and defects of
its own), while in more purely artistic worth it is quite eclipsed by
its rival. Still if _fauna_ is interesting in and of itself, which no
one who knows Barye's work would controvert, it is still more
interesting when, to put it brutally, something is done with it. In his
ambitious and colossal work at the Trocadéro, M. Frémiet does in fact
use his _fauna_ freely as artistic material, though at first sight it is
its zoölogical interest that appears paramount. The same is true of the
elephant near by, in which it seems as if he had designedly attacked the
difficult problem of rendering embodied awkwardness decorative. Still
more conspicuous, of course, is the artistic interest, the fancy, the
humor, the sportive grace of his Luxembourg group of a young satyr
feeding honey to a brace of bear's cubs, because he here concerns
himself more directly with his idea and gives his genius freer play. And
everyone will remember the sensation caused by his impressively
repulsive "Gorilla Carrying off a Woman." But it is when he leaves this
kind of thing entirely, and, wholly forgetful of his studies at the
Jardin des Plantes, devotes himself to purely monumental work, that he
is at his best. And in saying this I do not at all mean to insist on the
superiority of monumental sculpture to the sculpture of _fauna_; it is
superior, and Barye himself cannot make one content with the exclusive
consecration of admirable talent to picturesque anatomy illustrating
distinctly unintellectual passions. M. Frémiet, in ecstasy over his
picturesque anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes, would scout this; but it
is nevertheless true that in such works as the "Âge de la pierre,"
which, if it may be called a monumental clock-top, is nevertheless
certainly monumental; his "Louis d'Orléans," in the quadrangle of the
restored Château de Pierrefonds; his "Jeanne d'Arc" (the later statue is
not, I think, essentially different from the earlier one); and his
"Torch-bearer" of the Middle Ages, in the new Hôtel de Ville of Paris,
not only is his subject a subject of loftier and more enduring interest
than his elephants and deer and bears, but his own genius finds a more
congenial medium of expression. In other words, any one who has seen his
"Torch-bearer" or his "Louis d'Orléans" must conclude that M. Frémiet is
losing his time at the Jardin des Plantes. In monumental works of the
sort he displays a commanding dignity that borders closely upon the
grand style itself. The "Jeanne d'Arc" is indeed criticised for lack of
style. The horse is fine, as always with M. Frémiet; the action of both
horse and rider is noble, and the homogeneity of the two, so to speak,
is admirably achieved. But the character of the Maid is not perfectly
satisfactory to _à priori_ critics, to critics who have more or less
hard and fast notions about the immiscibility of the heroic and the
familiar. The "Jeanne d'Arc" is of course a heroic statue, illustrating
one of the most puissant of profane legends; and it is unquestionably
familiar and, if one chooses, defiantly unpretentious. Perhaps the Maid
as M. Frémiet represents her could never have accomplished
legend-producing deeds. Certainly she is the Maid neither of Chapu, nor
of Bastien-Lepage, nor of the current convention. She is, rather,
pretty, sympathetically childlike, _mignonne_; but M. Frémiet's
conception is an original and a gracious one, and even the critic
addicted to formulæ has only to forget its title to become thoroughly in
love with it; beside this merit _à priori_ shortcomings count very
little. But the other two works just mentioned are open to no objection
of this kind or of any other, and in the category to which they belong
they are splendid works. Since Donatello and Verrocchio nothing of the
kind has been done which surpasses them; and it is only M. Frémiet's
penchant for animal sculpture, and his fondness for exercising his
lighter fancy in comparatively trivial _objets de vertu_, that obscure
in any degree his fine talent for illustrating the grand style with
natural ease and large simplicity.


VIII

I have already mentioned the most representative among those who have
"arrived" of the school of academic French sculpture as it exists
to-day, though it would be easy to extend the list with Antonin Carlès,
whose "Jeunesse" of the World's Fair of 1889 is a very graceful
embodiment of adolescence; Suchetet, whose "Byblis" of the same
exhibition caused his early death to be deplored; Adrien Gaudez,
Etcheto, Idrac, and, of course, many others of distinction. There is no
looseness in characterizing this as a "school;" it has its own qualities
and its corresponding defects. It stands by itself--apart from the Greek
sculpture and from its inspiration, the Renaissance, and from the more
recent traditions of Houdon, or of Rude and Carpeaux. It is a thoroughly
legitimate and unaffected expression of national thought and feeling at
the present time, at once splendid and simple. The moment of triumph in
any intellectual movement is, however, always a dangerous one. A
slack-water period of intellectual slothfulness nearly always ensues.
Ideas which have previously been struggling to get a hearing have
become accepted ideas that have almost the force of axioms; no one
thinks of their justification, of their basis in real truth and fact;
they take their place in the great category of conventions. The mind
feels no longer the exhilaration of discovery, the stimulus of fresh
perception; the sense becomes jaded, enthusiasm impossible. Dealing with
the same material and guided by the same principles, its production
becomes inevitably hackneyed, artificial, lifeless; the _Zeit-Geist_,
the Time-Spirit, is really a kind of Sisyphus, and the essence of life
is movement. This law of perpetual renewal, of the periodical quickening
of the human spirit, explains the barrenness of the inheritance of the
greatest men; shows why originality is a necessary element of
perfection; why Phidias, Praxiteles, Donatello, Michael Angelo (not to
go outside of our subject), had no successors. Once a thing is done it
is done for all time, and the study of perfection itself avails only as
a stimulus to perfection in other combinations. In fact, the more nearly
perfect the model the greater the necessity for an absolute break with
it in order to secure anything like an equivalent in living force; in
_its_ direction at least everything vital has been done. So its lack of
original force, its over-carefulness for style, its inevitable
sensitiveness to the criticism that is based on convention, make the
weak side of the French academic sculpture of the present day, fine and
triumphant as it is. That the national thought and feeling are not a
little conventional, and have the academic rather than a spontaneous
inspiration, has, however, lately been distinctly felt as a misfortune
and a limitation by a few sculptors whose work may be called the
beginning of a new movement out of which, whatever may be its own
limitations, nothing but good can come to French sculpture and of which
the protagonists are Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou.



VI


THE NEW MOVEMENT IN SCULPTURE


I

Side by side with the academic current in French art has moved of recent
years a naturalist and romantic impulse whose manifestations have been
always vigorous though occasionally exaggerated. In any of the great
departments of activity nationally pursued--as art has been pursued in
France since Francis I.--there are always these rival currents, of which
now one and now the other constantly affects the ebb and flow of the
tide of thought and feeling. The classic and romantic duel of 1830, the
rise of the naturalist opposition to Hugo and romanticism in our own
day, are familiar instances of this phenomenon in literature. The revolt
of Géricault and Delacroix against David and Ingres are equally well
known in the field of painting. Of recent years the foundation of the
periodical _L'Art_ and its rivalry with the conservative _Gazette des
Beaux Arts_ mark with the same definiteness, and an articulate
precision, the same conflict between truth, as new eyes see it, and
tradition. Never, perhaps, since the early Renaissance, however, has
nature asserted her supremacy over convention in such unmistakable, such
insistent, and, one may say, I think, such intolerant fashion as she is
doing at the present moment. Sculpture, in virtue of the defiant
palpability of its material, is the most impalpable of the plastic arts,
and therefore it feels less quickly than the rest, perhaps, the impress
of the influences of the epoch and their classifying canons. Natural
imitation shows first in sculpture, and subsists in it longest. But
convention once its conqueror, the return to nature is here most tardy,
because, owing to the impalpable, the elusive quality of sculpture,
though natural standards may everywhere else be in vogue, no one thinks
of applying them to so specialized an expression. Its variation depends
therefore more completely on the individual artist himself. Niccolò
Pisano, for example, died when Giotto was two years old, but, at the
other end of the historic line of modern art, it has taken years since
Delacroix to furnish recognition for Auguste Rodin. The stronghold of
the Institute had been mined many times by revolutionary painters before
Dalou took the grand medal of the Salon.

Owing to the relative and in fact polemic position which these two
artists occupy, the movement which they represent, and of which as yet
they themselves form a chief part, a little obscures their respective
personalities, which are nevertheless, in sculpture, by far the most
positive and puissant of the present epoch. M. Rodin's work, especially,
is so novel that one's first impression in its presence is of its
implied criticism of the Institute. One thinks first of its attitude,
its point of view, its end, aim, and means, and of the utter contrast of
these with those of the accepted contemporary masters in his art--of
Dubois and Chapu, Mercié and Saint-Marceaux. One judges generally, and
instinctively avoids personal and direct impressions. The first thought
is not, Are the "Saint Jean" and the "Bourgeois de Calais" successful
works of art? But, _Can_ they be successful if the accepted masterpieces
of modern sculpture are not to be set down as insipid? One is a little
bewildered. It is easy to see and to estimate the admirable traits and
the shortcomings of M. Dubois's delightful and impressive reminiscences
of the Renaissance, of M. Mercié's refined and graceful compositions.
They are of their time and place. They embody, in distinguished manner
and in an accentuated degree, the general inspiration. Their spiritual
characteristics are traditional and universal, and technically, without
perhaps often passing beyond it, they exhaust cleverness. You may enjoy
or resent their classic and exemplary excellences, as you feel your
taste to have suffered from the lack or the superabundance of academic
influences; I cannot fancy an American insensitive to their charm. But
it is plain that their perfection is a very different thing from the
characteristics of a strenuous artistic personality seeking expression.
If these latter when encountered are seen to be evidently of an
extremely high order, contemporary criticism, at all events, should feel
at once the wisdom of beginning with the endeavor to appreciate, instead
of making the degree of its own familiarity with them the test of their
merit.

French æsthetic authority, which did this in the instances of Barye, of
Delacroix, of Millet, of Manet, of Puvis de Chavannes, did it also for
many years in the instance of M. Rodin. It owes its defeat in the
contest with him--for like the recalcitrants in the other contests, M.
Rodin has definitively triumphed--to the unwise attempt to define him in
terms heretofore applicable enough to sculptors, but wholly inapplicable
to him. It failed to see that the thing to define in his work was the
man himself, his temperament, his genius. Taken by themselves and
considered as characteristics of the Institute sculptors, the obvious
traits of this work might, that is to say, be adjudged eccentric and
empty. Fancy Professor Guillaume suddenly subordinating academic
disposition of line and mass to true structural expression! One would
simply feel the loss of his accustomed style and harmony. With M. Rodin,
who deals with nature directly, through the immediate force of his own
powerful temperament, to feel the absence of the Institute training and
traditions is absurd. The question in his case is simply whether or no
he is a great artistic personality, an extraordinary and powerful
temperament, or whether he is merely a turbulent and capricious
protestant against the measure and taste of the Institute. But this is
really no longer a question, however it may have been a few years ago;
and when his Dante portal for the new Palais des Arts Décoratifs shall
have been finished, and the public had an opportunity to see what the
sculptor's friend and only serious rival, M. Dalou, calls "one of the
most, if not the most original and astonishing pieces of sculpture of
the nineteenth century," it will be recognized that M. Rodin, so far
from being amenable to the current canon, has brought the canon itself
to judgment.

How and why, people will perceive in proportion to their receptivity.
Candor and intelligence will suffice to appreciate that the secret of M.
Rodin's art is structural expression, and that it is this and not any
superficial eccentricity of execution that definitely distinguishes him
from the Institute. Just as his imagination, his temperament, his
spiritual energy and ardor individualize the positive originality of his
motive, so the expressiveness of his treatment sets him aside from all
as well as from each of the Institute sculptors in what may be broadly
called technical attitude. No sculptor has ever carried expression
further. The sculpture of the present day has certainly not occupied
itself much with it. The Institute is perhaps a little afraid of it. It
abhors the _baroque_ rightly enough, but very likely it fails to see
that the expression of such sculpture as M. Rodin's no more resembles
the contortions of the Dresden Museum giants than it does the composure
of M. Delaplanche. The _baroque_ is only violent instead of placid
commonplace, and is as conventional as any professor of sculpture could
desire. Expression means individual character completely exhibited
rather than conventionally suggested. It is certainly not too much to
say that in the sculpture of the present day the sense of individual
character is conveyed mainly by convention. The physiognomy has usurped
the place of the physique, the gesture of the form, the pose of the
substance. And face, gesture, form are, when they are not brutally
naturalistic and so not art at all, not individual and native, but
typical and classic. Very much of the best modern sculpture might really
have been treated like those antique figurines of which the bodies were
made by wholesale, being supplied with individual heads when the time
came for using them.

This has been measurably true since the disappearance of the classic
dress and the concealment of the body by modern costume. The nudes of
the early Renaissance, in painting still more than in sculpture, are
differentiated by the faces. The rest of the figure is generally
conventionalized as thoroughly as the face itself is in Byzantine and
the hands in Giottesque painting. Giotto could draw admirably, it need
not be said. He did draw as well as the contemporary feeling for the
human figure demanded. When the Renaissance reached its climax and the
study of the antique led artists to look beneath drapery and interest
themselves in the form, expression made an immense step forward. Color
was indeed almost lost sight of in the new interest, not to reappear
till the Venetians. But owing to the lack of visible nudity, to the lack
of the classic gymnasia, to the concealments of modern attire, the
knowledge of and interest in the form remained, within certain limits,
an esoteric affair. The general feeling, even where, as in the Italy of
the _quattro_ and _cinque centi_, everyone was a connoisseur, did not
hold the artist to expression in his anatomy as the general Greek
feeling did. Everyone was a connoisseur of art alone, not of nature as
well. Consequently, in spite of such an enthusiastic genius as
Donatello, who probably more than any other modern has most nearly
approached the Greeks--not in spiritual attitude, for he was eminently
of his time, but in his attitude toward nature--the human form in art
has for the most part remained, not conventionalized as in the Byzantine
and Gothic times, but thoroughly conventional. Michael Angelo himself
certainly may be charged with lending the immense weight of his majestic
genius to perpetuate the conventional. It is not his distortion of
nature, as pre-Raphaelite limitedness glibly asserts, but his
carelessness of her prodigious potentialities, that marks one side of
his colossal accomplishment. Just as the lover of architecture as
architecture will protest that Michael Angelo's was meretricious,
however inspiring, so M. Rodin declares his sculpture unsatisfactory,
however poetically impressive. "He used to do a little anatomy
evenings," he said to me, "and used his chisel next day without a model.
He repeats endlessly his one type--the youth of the Sistine ceiling. Any
particular felicity of expression you are apt to find him borrowing from
Donatello--such as, for instance, the movement of the arm of the
'David,' which is borrowed from Donatello's 'St. John Baptist.'" Most
people to whom Michael Angelo's creations appear celestial in their
majesty at once and in their winningness would deny this. But it is
worth citing both because M. Rodin strikes so many crude apprehensions
as a French Michael Angelo, whereas he is so radically removed from him
in point of view and in practice that the unquestionable spiritual
analogy between them is rather like that between kindred spirits working
in different arts, and because, also, it shows not only what M. Rodin is
not, but what he is. The grandiose does not run away with him. His
imagination is occupied largely in following out nature's suggestions.
His sentiment does not so drench and saturate his work as to float it
bodily out of the realm of natural into that of supernal beauty, there
to crystallize in decorative and puissant visions appearing out of the
void and only superficially related to their corresponding natural
forms. Standing before the Medicean tombs the modern susceptibility
receives perhaps the most poignant, one may almost say the most
intolerable, impression to be obtained from any plastic work by the hand
of man; but it is a totally different impression from that left by the
sculptures of the Parthenon pediments, not only because the sentiment is
wholly different, but because in the great Florentine's work it is so
overwhelming as wholly to dominate purely natural expression, natural
character, natural beauty. In the Medici Chapel the soul is exalted; in
the British Museum the mind is enraptured. The object itself seems to
disappear in the one case, and to reveal itself in the other.

I do not mean to compare M. Rodin with the Greeks--from whom in
sentiment and imagination he is, of course, as totally removed as what
is intensely modern must be from the antique--any more than I mean to
contrast him with Michael Angelo, except for the purposes of clearer
understanding of his general æsthetic attitude. Association of anything
contemporary with what is classic, and especially with what is greatest
in the classic, is always a perilous proceeding. Very little time is apt
to play havoc with such classification. I mean only to indicate that the
resemblance to Michael Angelo, found by so many persons in such works as
the Dante doors, is only of the loosest kind--as one might, through
their common lusciousness, compare peaches with pomegranates--and that
to the discerning eye, or the eye at all experienced in observing
sculpture, M. Rodin's sculpture is far more closely related to that of
Donatello and the Greeks. It, too, reveals rather than constructs
beauty, and by the expression of character rather than by the suggestion
of sentiment.

An illustration of M. Rodin's affinity with the antique is an incident
which he related to me of his work upon his superb "Âge d'Airain." He
was in Naples; he saw nature in freer inadvertence than she allows
elsewhere; he had the best of models. Under these favoring circumstances
he spent three months on a leg of his statue; "which is equivalent to
saying that I had at last absolutely mastered it," said he. One day in
the Museo Nazionale he noticed in an antique the result of all his study
and research. Nature, in other words, is M. Rodin's _material_ in the
same special sense in which it was the antique material, and in which,
since Michael Angelo and the high Renaissance, it has been for the most
part only the sculptor's _means_. It need not be said that the
personality of the artist may be as strenuous in the one case as in the
other; unless, indeed, we maintain, as perhaps we may, that
individuality is more apt to atrophy in the latter instance; for as one
gets farther and farther away from nature he is in more danger from
conventionality than from caprice. And this is in fact what has happened
since the high Renaissance, the long line of conventionalities being
continued, sometimes punctuated here and there as by Clodion or Houdon,
David, Rude, or Barye, sometimes rising into great dignity and
refinement of style and intelligence, as in the contemporary sculpture
of the Institute, but in general almost purely decorative or
sentimental, and, so far as natural expression is concerned, confining
itself to psychological rather than physical character.

What is it, for instance, that distinguishes a group like M. Dubois's
"Charity" from the _genre_ sentiment or incident of some German or
Italian "professor?" Qualities of style, of refined taste, of elegance,
of true intelligence. Its artistic interest is purely decorative and
sentimental. Really what its average admirer sees in it is the same
moral appeal that delights the simple admirers of German or Italian
treatment of a similar theme. It is simply infinitely higher bred. Its
character is developed no further. Its significance as form is not
insisted on. The parts are not impressively differentiated, and their
mysterious mutual relations and correspondences are not dwelt on. The
physical character, with its beauties, its salient traits of every kind,
appealing so strongly to the sculptor to whom nature appears plastic as
well as suggestive, is wholly neglected in favor of the psychological
suggestion. And the individual character, the _cachet_ of the whole, the
artistic essence and _ensemble_, that is to say, M. Dubois has, after
the manner of most modern sculpture, conveyed in a language of
convention, which since the time of the Siennese fountain, at all
events, has been classical.

The literary artist does not proceed in this way. He does not content
himself with telling us, for example, that one of his characters is a
good man or a bad man, an able, a selfish, a tall, a blonde, or a stupid
man, as the case may be. He takes every means to express his character,
and to do it, according to M. Taine's definition of a work of art, more
completely than it appears in nature. He recognizes its complexity and
enforces the sense of reality by a thousand expedients of what one may
almost call contrasting masses, derivative movements, and balancing
planes. He distinguishes every possible detail that plays any structural
part, and, in short, instead of giving us the mere symbol of the
Sunday-school books, shows us a concrete organism at once characteristic
and complex. Judged with this strictness, which in literary art is
elementary, how much of the best modern sculpture is abstract, symbolic,
purely typical. What insipid fragments most of the really eminent
Institute statues would make were their heads knocked off by some band
of modern barbarian invaders. In the event of such an irruption, would
there be any torsos left from which future Poussins could learn all they
should know of the human form? Would there be any _disjecta membra_ from
which skilled anatomists could reconstruct the lost _ensemble_, or at
any rate make a shrewd guess at it? Would anything survive mutilation
with the serene confidence in its fragmentary but everywhere penetrating
interest which seems to pervade the most fractured fraction of a Greek
relief on the Athenian acropolis? Yes, there would be the débris of
Auguste Rodin's sculpture.

In our day the human figure has never been so well understood. Back of
such expressive modelling as we note in the "Saint Jean," in the "Adam"
and "Eve," in the "Calaisiens," in a dozen figures of the Dante doors,
is a knowledge of anatomy such as even in the purely scientific
profession of surgery can proceed only from an immense fondness for
nature, an insatiable curiosity as to her secrets, an inexhaustible
delight in her manifestations. From the point of view of such knowledge
and such handling of it, it is no wonder that the representations of
nature which issue from the Institute seem superficial. One can
understand that from this point of view very delightful sculpture, very
refined, very graceful, very perfectly understood within its limits, may
appear like _baudruche_--inflated gold-beater's skin, that is to say, of
which toy animals are made in France, and which has thus passed into
studio _argot_ as the figure for whatever lacks structure and substance.
Ask M. Rodin the explanation of a movement, an attitude, in one of his
works which strikes your convention-steeped sense as strange, and he
will account for it just as an anatomical demonstrator would--pointing
out its necessary derivation from some disposition of another part of
the figure, and not at all dwelling on its grace or its other purely
decorative felicity. Its artistic function in his eyes is to aid in
expressing fully and completely the whole of which it forms a part, not
to constitute a harmonious detail merely agreeable to the easily
satisfied eye. But then the whole will look anatomical rather than
artistic. There is the point exactly. Will it? I remember speculating
about this in conversation with M. Rodin himself. "Isn't there danger,"
I said, "of getting too fond of nature, of dissecting with so much
enthusiasm that the pleasure of discovery may obscure one's feeling for
pure beauty, of losing the artistic in the purely scientific interest,
of becoming pedantic, of imitating rather than constructing, of missing
art in avoiding the artificial?" I had some difficulty in making myself
understood; this perpetual see-saw of nature and art which enshrouds
æsthetic dialectics as in a Scotch mist seems curiously factitious to
the truly imaginative mind. But I shall always remember his reply, when
he finally made me out, as one of the finest severings conceivable of a
Gordian knot of this kind. "Oh, yes," said he; "there is, no doubt, such
a danger for a mediocre artist."

M. Rodin is, whatever one may think of him, certainly not a mediocre
artist. The instinct of self-preservation may incline the Institute to
assert that he obtrudes his anatomy. But prejudice itself can blind no
one of intelligence to his immense imaginative power, to his poetic
"possession." His work precisely illustrates what I take to have been,
at the best epochs, the relations of nature to such art as is loosely
to be called imitative art--what assuredly were those relations in the
mind of the Greek artist. Nature supplies the parts and suggests their
cardinal relations. Insufficient study of her leaves these superficial
and insipid. Inartistic absorption in her leaves them lifeless. The
imagination which has itself conceived the whole, the idea, fuses them
in its own heat into a new creation which is "imitative" only in the
sense that its elements are not inventions. The art of sculpture has
retraced its steps far enough to make pure invention, as of Gothic
griffins and Romanesque symbology, unsatisfactory to everyone. But, save
in M. Rodin's sculpture, it has not fully renewed the old alliance with
nature on the old terms--Donatello's terms; the terms which exact the
most tribute from nature, which insist on her according her completest
significance, her closest secrets, her faculty of expressing character
as well as of suggesting sentiment. Very beautiful works are produced
without her aid to this extent. We may be sure of this without asking M.
Rodin to admit it. He would not do his own work so well were he prepared
to; as Millet pointed out when asked to write a criticism of some other
painter's canvas, in estimating the production of his fellows an artist
is inevitably handicapped by the feeling that he would have done it very
differently himself. It is easy not to share M. Rodin's gloomy
vaticinations as to French sculpture based on the continued triumph of
the Institute style and suavity. The Institute sculpture is too good for
anyone not himself engaged in the struggle to avoid being impressed
chiefly by its qualities to the neglect of its defects. At the same time
it is clear that no art can long survive in undiminished vigor that does
not from time to time renew its vitality by resteeping itself in the
influences of nature. And so M. Rodin's service to French sculpture
becomes, at the present moment, especially signal and salutary because
French sculpture, however refined and delightful, shows, just now, very
plainly the tendency toward the conventional which has always proved so
dangerous, and because M. Rodin's work is a conspicuous, a shining
example of the return to nature on the part not of a mere realist,
naturalist, or other variety of "mediocre artist," but of a profoundly
poetic and imaginative temperament.

This is why, one immediately perceives in studying his works, Rodin's
treatment, while exhausting every contributary detail to the end of
complete expression, is never permitted to fritter away its energy
either in the mystifications of optical illusion, or in the infantine
idealization of what is essentially subordinate and ancillary. This is
why he devotes three months to the study of a leg, for example--not to
copy, but to "possess" it. Indeed, no sculptor of our time has made such
a sincere and, in general, successful, effort to sink the sense of the
material in the conception, the actual object in the artistic idea. One
loses all sense of bronze or marble, as the case may be, not only
because the artistic significance is so overmastering that one is
exclusively occupied in apprehending it, but because there are none of
those superficial graces, those felicities of surface modelling, which,
however they may delight, infallibly distract as well. Such excellences
have assuredly their place. When the motive is conventional or otherwise
insipid, or even when its character is distinctly light without being
trivial, they are legitimately enough agreeable. And because, in our
day, sculptural motives have generally been of this order we have become
accustomed to look for such excellences, and, very justly, to miss them
when they are absent. Grace of pose, suavity of outline, pleasing
disposition of mass, smooth, round deltoids and osseous articulations,
and perpetually changing planes of flesh and free play of muscular
movement, are excellences which, in the best of academic French
sculpture, are sensuously delightful in a high degree. But they
invariably rivet our attention on the successful way in which the
sculptor has used his bronze or marble to decorative ends, and when they
are accentuated so as to dominate the idea they invariably enfeeble its
expression. With M. Rodin one does not think of his material at all; one
does not reflect whether he used it well or ill, caused it to lose
weight and immobility to the eye or not, because all his superficial
modelling appears as an inevitable deduction from the way in which he
has conceived his larger subject, and not as "handling" at all. In
reality, of course, it is the acme of sensitive handling. The point is a
nice one. His practice is a dangerous one. It would be fatal to a less
strenuous temperament. To leave, in a manner and so far as obvious
insistence on it goes, "handling" to take care of itself, is to incur
the peril of careless, clumsy, and even brutal, modelling, which, so far
from dissembling its existence behind the prominence of the idea, really
emphasizes itself unduly because of its imperfect and undeveloped
character. Detail that is neglected really acquires a greater prominence
than detail that is carried too far, because it is sensuously
disagreeable. But when an artist like M. Rodin conceives his spiritual
subject so largely and with so much intensity that mere sensuous
agreeableness seems too insignificant to him even to be treated with
contempt, he treats his detail solely with reference to its centripetal
and organic value, which immediately becomes immensely enhanced, and the
detail itself, dropping thus into its proper place, takes on a beauty
wholly transcending the ordinary agreeable aspect of sculptural detail.
And the _ensemble_, of course, is in this way enforced as it can be in
no other, and we get an idea of Victor Hugo or St. John Baptist so
powerfully and yet so subtly suggested, that the abstraction seems
actually all that we see in looking at the concrete bust or statue.
Objections to M. Rodin's "handling" as eccentric or capricious, appear
to the sympathetic beholder of one of his majestic works the very acme
of misappreciation, and their real excuse--which is, as I have said, the
fact that such "handling" is as unfamiliar as the motives it
accompanies--singularly poor and feeble.

As for the common nature of these motives, the character of the
personality which appears in their varied presentments, it is almost
idle to speak in the absence of the work itself, so eloquent is this at
once and so untranslatable. But it may be said approximately that M.
Rodin's temperament is in the first place deeply romantic. Everything
the Institute likes repels him. He has the poetic conception of art and
its mission, and in poetry any authoritative and codifying consensus
seems to him paradoxical. Style, in his view, unless it is something
wholly uncharacterizable, is a vague and impalpable spirit breathing
through the work of some strongly marked individuality, or else it is
formalism. He delights in the fantasticality of the Gothic. The west
façade of Rouen inspires him more than all the formulæ of Palladian
proportions. He detests systematization. He reads Shakespeare, Schiller,
Dante almost exclusively. He sees visions and dreams dreams. The awful
in the natural forces, moral and material, seems his element. He
believes in freedom, in the absolute emancipation of every faculty. As
for study, study nature. If then you fail in restraint and measure you
are a "mediocre artist," whom no artificial system devised to secure
measure and restraint could have rescued from essential insignificance.
No poet or landscape painter ever delighted more in the infinitely
varied suggestiveness and exuberance of nature, or ever felt the
formality of much that passes for art as more chill and drear. Hence in
all his works we have the sense, first of all, of an overmastering
sincerity; then of a prodigious wealth of fancy; then of a marvellous
acquaintance with his material. His imagination has all the vivacity and
tumultuousness of Rubens's, but its images, if not better understood,
which would perhaps be impossible, are more compact and their evolution
more orderly. And they are furthermore one and all vivified by a wholly
remarkable feeling for beauty. In spite of all his knowledge of the
external world, no artist of our time is more completely mastered by
sentiment. In the very circumstance of being free from such conventions
as the cameo relief, the picturesque costume details, the goldsmith's
work characteristic of the Renaissance, now so much in vogue, M. Rodin's
things acquire a certain largeness and loftiness as well as simplicity
and sincerity of sentiment. The same model posed for the "Saint Jean"
that posed for a dozen things turned out of the academic studios, but
compared with the result in the latter cases, that in the former is even
more remarkable for sentiment than for its structural sapience and
general physical interest. How perfectly insignificant beside its moral
impressiveness are the graceful works whose sentiment does not result
from the expression of the form, but is conveyed in some convention of
pose, of gesture, of physiognomy! It is like the contrast between a
great and a graceful actor. The one interests you by his intelligent
mastery of convention, by the tact and taste with which he employs in
voice, carriage, facial expression, gesture, diction, the several
conventions according to which ideas and emotions are habitually
conveyed to your comprehension. Salvini, Coquelin, Got, pass immediately
outside the realm of conventions. Their language, their medium of
communication, is as new as what it expresses. They are inventive as
well as intelligent. Their effect is prodigiously heightened because in
this way, the warp as well as the woof of their art being expressive and
original, the artistic result is greatly fortified. Given the same
model, M. Rodin's result is in like manner expressly and originally
enforced far beyond the result toward which the academic French school
employs the labels of the Renaissance as conventionally as its
predecessor at the beginning of the century employed those of the
antique. "Formerly we used to do Greek," says M. Rodin, with no small
justice; "now we do Italian. That is all the difference there is." And I
cannot better conclude this imperfect notice of the work of a great
master, in characterizing which such epithets as majestic, Miltonic,
grandiose suggest themselves first of all, than by calling attention to
the range which it covers, and to the fact that, even into the domain
which one would have called consecrate to the imitators of the antique
and the Renaissance, M. Rodin's informing sentiment and sense of beauty
penetrate with their habitual distinction; and that the little child's
head entitled "Alsace," that considerable portion of his work
represented by "The Wave and the Shore," for example, and a small ideal
female figure, which the manufacturer might covet for reproduction, but
which, as Bastien-Lepage said to me, is "a definition of the essence of
art," are really as noble as his more majestic works are beautiful.


II

Aubé is another sculptor of acknowledged eminence who ranges himself
with M. Rodin in his opposition to the Institute. His figures of
"Bailly" and "Dante" are very fine, full of a most impressive dignity in
the _ensemble_, and marked by the most vigorous kind of modelling. One
may easily like his "Gambetta" less. But for years Rodin's only eminent
fellow sculptor was Dalou. Perhaps his protestantism has been less
pronounced than M. Rodin's. It was certainly long more successful in
winning both the connoisseur and the public. The state itself, which is
now and then even more conservative than the Institute, has charged him
with important works, and the Salon has given him its highest medal. And
he was thus recognized long before M. Rodin's works had risen out of the
turmoil of critical contention to their present envied if not cordially
approved eminence. But for being less energetic, less absorbed, less
intense than M. Rodin's, M. Dalou's enthusiasm for nature involves a
scarcely less uncompromising dislike of convention. He had no success at
the École des Beaux Arts. Unlike Rodin, he entered those precincts and
worked long within them, but never sympathetically or felicitously. The
rigor of academic precept was from the first excessively distasteful to
his essentially and eminently romantic nature. He chafed incessantly.
The training doubtless stood him in good stead when he found himself
driven by hard necessity into commercial sculpture, into that class of
work which is on a very high plane for its kind in Paris, but for which
the manufacturer rather than the designer receives the credit. But he
probably felt no gratitude to it for this, persuaded that but for its
despotic prevalence there would have been a clearer field for his
spontaneous and agreeable effort to win distinction in. He greatly
preferred at this time the artistic anarchy of England, whither he
betook himself after the Commune--not altogether upon compulsion, but by
prudence perhaps; for like Rodin, his birth, his training, his
disposition, his ideas, have always been as liberal and popular in
politics as in art, and in France a man of any sincerity and dignity of
character has profound political convictions, even though his profession
be purely æsthetic. In England he was very successful both at the
Academy and with the amateurs of the aristocracy, of many of whom he
made portraits, besides finding ready purchasers among them for his
imaginative works. The list of these latter begins, if we except some
delightful decoration for one of the Champs-Élysées palaces, with a
statue called "La Brodeuse," which won for him a medal at the Salon of
1870. Since then his production has been prodigious in view of its
originality, of its lack of the powerful momentum extraneously supplied
to the productive force that follows convention and keeps in the beaten
track.

His numerous peasant subjects at one time led to comparison of him with
Millet, but the likeness is of the most superficial kind. There is no
spiritual kinship whatever between him and Millet. Dalou models the
Marquis de Dreux-Brézé with as much zest as he does his "Boulonnaise
allaitant son enfant;" his touch is as sympathetic in his Rubens-like
"Silenus" as in his naturalistic "Berceuse." Furthermore, there is
absolutely no note of melancholy in his realism--which, at the present
time, is a point well worth noting. His vivacity excludes the pathetic.
Traces of Carpeaux's influence are plain in his way of conceiving such
subjects as Carpeaux would have handled. No one could have come so
closely into contact with that vigorous individuality without in some
degree undergoing its impress, without learning to look for the alert
and elegant aspects of his model, whatever it might be. But with
Carpeaux's distinction Dalou has more poise. He is considerably farther
away from the rococo. His ideal is equally to be summarized in the word
Life, but he cares more for its essence, so to speak, than for its
phenomena, or at all events manages to make it felt rather than seen.
One perceives that humanity interests him on the moral side, that he is
interested in its significance as well as its form. Accordingly with him
the movement illustrates the form, which is in its turn truly
expressive, whereas occasionally, so bitter was his disgust with the
pedantry of the schools, with Carpeaux the form is used to exhibit
movement. Then, too, M. Dalou has a certain nobility which Carpeaux's
vivacity is a shade too animated to reach. Motive and treatment blend in
a larger sweep. The graver substance follows the planes and lines of a
statelier if less brilliant style. It _has_, in a word, more style.

I can find no exacter epithet, on the whole, for Dalou's large
distinction, and conscious yet sober freedom, than the word Venetian.
There is some subtle phrenotype that associates him with the great
colorists. His work is, in fact, full of color, if one may trench on the
jargon of the studios. It has the sumptuousness of Titian and Paul
Veronese. Its motives are cast in the same ample mould. Many of his
figures breathe the same air of high-born ease and well-being, of serene
and not too intellectual composure. There is an aristocratic tincture
even in his peasants--a kind of native distinction inseparable from his
touch. And in his women there is a certain gracious sweetness, a certain
exquisite and elusive refinement elsewhere caught only by Tintoretto,
but illustrated by Tintoretto with such penetrating intensity as to
leave perhaps the most nearly indelible impression that the sensitive
amateur carries away with him from Venice. The female figures in the
colossal group which should have been placed in the Place de la
République, but was relegated by official stupidity to the Place des
Nations, are examples of this patrician charm in carriage, in form, in
feature, in expression. They have not the witchery, the touch of
Bohemian sprightliness that make such figures as Carpeaux's "Flora" so
enchanting, but they are at once sweeter and more distinguished. The
sense for the exquisite which this betrays excludes all dross from M.
Dalou's rich magnificence. Even the "Silenus" group illustrates
exuberance without excess: I spoke of it just now as Rubens-like, but it
is only because it recalls Rubens's superb strength and riotous fancy;
it is in reality a Rubens-like motive purged in the execution of all
Flemish grossness. There is even in Dalou's fantasticality of this sort
a measure and distinction which temper animation into resemblance to
such delicate blitheness as is illustrated by the Bargello "Bacchus" of
Jacopo Sansovino. Sansovino afterward, by the way, amid the
artificiality of Venice, whither he went, wholly lost his individual
force, as M. Dalou, owing to his love of nature, is less likely to do.
But his sketch for a monument to Victor Hugo, and perhaps still more his
memorial of Delacroix in the Luxembourg Gardens, point warningly in this
direction, and it would perhaps be easier than he supposes to permit his
extraordinary decorative facility to lead him on to execute works
unpenetrated by personal feeling, and recalling less the acme of the
Renaissance than the period just afterward, when original effort had
exhausted itself and the movement of art was due mainly to
momentum--when, as in France at the present moment, the enormous mass of
artistic production really forced pedantry upon culture, and prevented
any but the most strenuous personalities from being genuine, because of
the immensely increased authoritativeness of what had become classic.

Certainly M. Dalou is far more nearly in the current of contemporary art
than his friend Rodin, who stands with his master Barye rather defiantly
apart from the regular evolution of French sculpture, whereas one can
easily trace the derivation of M. Dalou and his relations to the present
and the immediate past of his art in his country. His work certainly has
its Fragonard, its Clodion, its Carpeaux side. Like every temperament
that is strongly attracted by the decorative as well as the significant
and the expressive, pure style in and for itself has its fascinations,
its temptations for him. Of course it does not succeed in getting the
complete possession of him that it has of the Institute. And there is,
as I have suggested, an important difference, disclosed in the fact that
M. Dalou uses his faculty for style in a personal rather than in the
conventional way. His decoration is distinctly Dalou, and not
arrangements after classic formulæ. It is full of zest, of ardor, of
audacity. So that if his work has what one may call its national side,
it is because the author's temperament is thoroughly national at bottom,
and not because this temperament is feeble or has been academically
repressed. But the manifest fitness with which it takes its place in the
category of French sculpture shows the moral difference between it and
the work of M. Rodin. Morally speaking, it is mainly--not altogether,
but mainly--rhetorical, whereas M. Rodin's is distinctly poetic. It is
delightful rhetoric and it has many poetic strains--such as the charm of
penetrating distinction I have mentioned. But with the passions in their
simplest and last analysis he hardly occupies himself at all. Such a
work as "La République," the magnificent bas-relief of the Hôtel de
Ville in Paris, is a triumph of allegorical rhetoric, very noble, not a
little moving, prodigious in its wealth of imaginative material,
composed from the centre and not arranged with artificial felicity, full
of suggestiveness, full of power, abounding in definite sculptural
qualities, both moral and technical; it again is Rubens-like in its
exuberance, but of firmer texture, more closely condensed. But anything
approaching the _kind_ of impressiveness of the Dante portal it
certainly does not essay. It is in quite a different sphere. Its
exaltation is, if not deliberate, admirably self-possessed. To find it
theatrical would be simply a mark of our absurd Anglo-Saxon preference
for reserve and repression in circumstances naturally suggesting
expansion and elation--a preference surely born of timorousness and
essentially very subtly theatrical itself. It is simply not deeply,
intensely poetic, but, rather, a splendid piece of rhetoric, as I say.

So, too, is the famous Mirabeau relief, which is perhaps M. Dalou's
masterpiece, and which represents his national side as completely as the
group for the Place des Nations does those of his qualities I have
endeavored to indicate by calling them Venetian. Observe the rare
fidelity which has contributed its weight of sincerity to this admirable
relief. Every prominent head of the many members of the Assembly, who
nevertheless rally behind Mirabeau with a fine pell-mell freedom of
artistic effect, is a portrait. The effect is like that of similar works
designed and executed with the large leisure of an age very different
from the competition and struggling hurry of our own. In every respect
this work is as French as it is individual. It is penetrated with a
sense of the dignity of French history. It is as far as possible removed
from the cheap _genre_ effect such a scheme in less skilful hands might
easily have had. Mirabeau's gesture, in fact his entire presence, is
superb, but the marquis is as fine in his way as the tribune in his. The
beholder assists at the climax of a great crisis, unfolded to him in the
impartial spirit of true art, quite without partisanship, and though
manifestly stimulated by sympathy with the nobler cause, even more
acutely conscious of the grandeur of the struggle and the distinction of
those on all sides engaged in it, and acquiring from these a kind of
elation, of exaltation such as the Frenchman experiences only when he
may give expression to his artistic and his patriotic instincts at the
same moment.

The distinctly national qualities of this masterpiece, and their
harmonious association with the individual characteristics of M. Dalou,
his love of nature, his native distinction, his charm, and his power, in
themselves bear eminent witness to the vitality of modern French
sculpture, in spite of all the influences which tend to petrify it with
system and convention. M. Rodin stands so wholly apart that it would be
unsafe perhaps to argue confidently from his impressive works the
potentiality of periodical renewal in an art over which the Institute
presides with still so little challenge of its title. But it is
different with M. Dalou. Extraordinary as his talent is, its
unquestioned and universal recognition is probably in great measure due
to the preparedness of the environment to appreciate extraordinary work
of the kind, to the high degree which French popular æsthetic education,
in a word, has reached. And one's last word about contemporary French
sculpture--even in closing a consideration of the works of such
protestants as Rodin and Dalou--must be a recognition of the immense
service of the Institute in education of this kind. Let some country
without an institute, around which what æsthetic feeling the age permits
may crystallize, however sharply, give us a Rodin and a Dalou!





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