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Title: American Masters of Painting
Author: Caffin, Charles H. (Charles Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "American Masters of Painting" ***

produced from images available at The Internet Archive)


     From the collection of Mrs. Augustus Saint-Gaudens.



                          AMERICAN MASTERS OF


                      BRIEF APPRECIATIONS OF SOME
                           AMERICAN PAINTERS

                              THEIR WORK


                           CHARLES H. CAFFIN


                       GARDEN CITY      NEW YORK
                       DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

                       COPYRIGHT, 1901, 1902, BY

                          COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY
                      DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY.


Thanks are especially due to Colonel Frank J. Hecker and Mr. Charles L.
Freer of Detroit; to Mr. George A. Hearn, Mrs. Augustus Saint-Gaudens,
Mr. Samuel Untermeyer, Mr. William T. Evans, Mr. Daniel Guggenheim, Mr.
Louis Marshall, Miss Henrietta E. Failing, Mr. Whitelaw Reid, Mr. James
W. Ellsworth, Mr. J. J. Albright, Mr. N. E. Montross, the Carnegie
Institute, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,--whose assistance has
made possible the inclusion of the reproductions in this illustrated

_Published by the courtesy of The New York Sun._



   I. George Inness                                                    3

  II. John La Farge                                                   19

 III. James A. McNeill Whistler                                       37

  IV. John Singer Sargent                                             55

   V. Winslow Homer                                                   71

  VI. Edwin A. Abbey                                                  83

 VII. George Fuller                                                  101

VIII. Homer D. Martin                                                115

  IX. George de Forest Brush                                         129

   X. Alexander H. Wyant                                             143

  XI. Dwight W. Tryon                                                155

 XII. Horatio Walker                                                 171

XIII. Gilbert Stuart                                                 185


                                                             FACING PAGE

HOMER SAINT-GAUDENS. BY JOHN S. SARGENT                    _Frontispiece_

THE BERKSHIRE HILLS. BY GEORGE INNESS                                  4

SUNSHINE AND CLOUDS. BY GEORGE INNESS                                  5

MIDSUMMER. BY GEORGE INNESS                                           14

ATHENS. BY JOHN LA FARGE                                              22

  Decorative painting in the Walker Art Gallery, Bowdoin College.

ALTAR PIECE. BY JOHN LA FARGE                                         23

  Church of the Ascension, New York.

THE ANGEL OF THE SUN. BY JOHN LA FARGE                                32

  Decoration in the Church of the Paulist Fathers, New York.

MCNEILL WHISTLER                                                      42

THE MUSIC ROOM. BY JAMES A. MCNEILL WHISTLER                          43


THE BALCONY. BY JAMES A. MCNEILL WHISTLER                             47

CARMENCITA. BY JOHN S. SARGENT                                        56

PORTRAIT OF MR. MARQUAND. BY JOHN S. SARGENT                          57

THE LOOKOUT--“ALL’S WELL.” BY WINSLOW HOMER                           72

THE WEST WIND. BY WINSLOW HOMER                                       73

THE MAINE COAST. BY WINSLOW HOMER                                     78

BY EDWIN A. ABBEY                                                     86

PAVANE. BY EDWIN A. ABBEY                                             87

  Painted in 1895 to occupy a special place in the room where
    it now is.

THE SIMPLE GATHERER. BY GEORGE FULLER                                106

WESTCHESTER HILLS. BY HOMER D. MARTIN                                120

THE SUN WORSHIPPERS. BY HOMER D. MARTIN                              121

OLD CHURCH IN NORMANDY. BY HOMER D. MARTIN                           124


MOTHER AND CHILD. BY GEORGE DE FOREST BRUSH                          137

THE MOHAWK VALLEY. BY ALEXANDER H. WYANT                             146


MOONLIGHT AND FROST. BY ALEXANDER H. WYANT                           150

SPRING BLOSSOMS. BY DWIGHT W. TRYON                                  160

EARLY SPRING, NEW ENGLAND. BY DWIGHT W. TRYON                        161

EVENING--AUTUMN. BY DWIGHT W. TRYON                                  166

A STY. BY HORATIO WALKER                                             174

PLOUGHING IN ACADIA. BY HORATIO WALKER                               175



In the record of American art three names stand out distinctly as those
of innovators: Whistler, La Farge, and George Inness. While Whistler’s
influence has been felt throughout the whole art world, and La Farge (to
quote from the Report of the International Jury of the Exhibition of
1889) “has created in all its details an art unknown before,” Inness was
a pathfinder, only within the domain of American art, and was led by
instinct into ways already trodden by the great men of other countries.
But this does not make him less an innovator. Nor does the fact that he
was certainly influenced by “the men of 1830,” when he came to know
their works. The point is that throughout his life his evolution was
from within.

His father, a retired New York grocer, would have had him enter
business, and even opened a small store for him in Newark, N.J., whither
the family had moved from Newburg. But the son’s mind was set on art.
Like Durand, Kensett, and Casilear, he was apprenticed for a short time
to an engraver, and subsequently studied painting for a little while
with Regis Gignoux, a pupil of Delaroche. For the rest he was
self-taught. His contemporary, Frederick E. Church, younger than himself
by a year, was seeking instruction from Thomas Cole, the founder of the
“Hudson River School,” whose grand topographical landscapes the pupil
was to follow in his studies of the Andes, of Niagara, and of other
impressive regions. The young Inness, meanwhile, was independently
studying the individual forms of nature. That he should be insensible to
the influence of Cole was out of the question, and so late as 1865, when
he was forty years old, and had returned from his first visit to Europe
deeply impressed with the work of the Barbizon painters, we can detect
in at least two pictures, “Delaware Valley” and the large “Peace and
Plenty” of the Metropolitan Museum, that fondness for grandeur of
distance and extent so characteristic of Cole. But we can also detect
the expression of a fuller intimacy with the scene than Cole could give.
Inness’s own penetrating study of natural phenomena, indorsed for
himself, no doubt, by the corresponding aim of the Barbizon painters to
reach the inwardness of the landscape, had enabled him more thoroughly
to comprehend the vastness; to collate


     From the collection of George A. Hearn, Esq.




     From the collection of William T. Evans, Esq.



the details and render them subordinate to a single powerful impression.
The conception and progress of each of those pictures is from the
general to the particular, and not contrariwise, as in the topographical
landscape; and this contrary has impressed upon them a distinct personal
feeling; the realization in each case of a mood of nature, powerfully

But in alluding to the topographical character of Cole’s landscapes, I
am very far from wishing to belittle the essential greatness of that
painter. While his means of expression were comparatively inadequate,
while he may even have mistaken the true province of landscape painting,
his conception of nature was unquestionably an exalted one, and likely
to be acceptable to a spirit so eagerly aspiring as Inness’s.
Moreover--and this is often overlooked--it was the natural result of the
time and environment. To a young people, with its growing consciousness
of free and independent nationality, surrounded by the vastness of
nature as yet scarcely altered by man, what could have been more
attractive than this sense of nature’s grandeur? In their attitude
toward the nature around them they may have been nearer to the truth
than we give them credit for. We must not forget that our estimate of
the functions of landscape painting comes to us from Holland, a country
of limited horizons, through France, whose soil is highly cultivated and
studded with the charming intimacy of rural life. Finding this _paysage
intime_ true to nature and intrinsically lovely, while the so-called
classic landscape was grandiloquently superficial, we have assumed that
the former is the true and only satisfactory representative of pictorial
landscape. Perhaps too rashly; for even as painting has been able to
compass the solemnities of religion, so a painter may arise who will
join to technical ability sufficient force of mind to compass the
solemnities of nature. Meanwhile, we should at least remember that Cole
drew his inspiration from American scenery, which the modern painter is
studying through spectacles borrowed from France and Holland.

Where Inness showed himself superior to the American painters of his
early life was in the comprehensive control which he exercised over his
view of nature; a control assisted by his close study of nature’s forms,
and of their relative significances. He was, in fact, the father of the
naturalistic movement in American landscape; for it seems clear that he
fully realized the trend of his studies before he had found them
indorsed by the Barbizon painters. And this separate and independent
offshoot of the naturalistic movement, appearing almost simultaneously
in the New World, is a very curious and interesting problem. In the case
of the Barbizon painters the logic of the movement can be readily
traced: in the general dissatisfaction with classicism; in the immediate
influence of Constable and the tradition of the Dutch; and, finally, in
a sort of compromise between the realism of Courbet and the poetic rage
of the Romanticists. But that, unprompted by outside suggestion, a
yearning for nature study and for a poetic interpretation of landscape
should have arisen at about the same time in a young man on the banks of
the American Hudson, points to that wider logic which thinkers have
detected in the evolution of man--that the identical phases of evolution
may appear sporadically, independent of transmitted causes, the
individual man or nation having reached a period of personal development
at which the next step becomes inevitable.

Inness was of religious temperament; highly imaginative and at the same
time questioning, argumentative, as befitted his Scotch origin. Applying
these qualities to his art, he was unremitting in the investigation of
truth, while regarding nature in a spirit of elevated poetry. For he
seems to have had always an alert consciousness of the simultaneous
claims of the spirit and of the senses. He found an interdependence
between the two. External beauty was the expression of an inward beauty
of spirit. In this way landscape painting to some orders of mind becomes
veritably a form of religious painting. It would seem to have been so to
Inness, as, in his way, it was to Corot. It was with the latter of all
the Barbizon painters that Inness appears to have had most sympathy,
though he was appreciative also of Rousseau and Daubigny.

A man may be gauged to some extent by the company he chooses, and
Inness’s predilection for these three may afford additional evidence of
his own personal feeling toward his art. Toward Rousseau he was
attracted, no doubt, by the master’s magnificent sincerity, the tireless
analysis that resulted in such a comprehension of nature’s forms, within
which he, too, felt the existence of a spirituality that led him in time
to nature-worship, into a sort of vague pantheism. This spiritual
“underlay” in Rousseau’s work must have been very fascinating to Inness,
while its concentrated intensity would strike a sympathetic chord in his
own ardent temperament. Not, however, so as to lead him in the direction
of Rousseau’s sternness. His sympathies were more akin to the tender
spirituality of Corot. He missed in the latter’s work the mastery of
tangible form and found his range of colour narrow, but was charmed
with the exquisite serenity, childlike freshness of soul, and
perpetually gracious _bonhommie_ of Corot’s manner,--all qualities that
one associates with the classic style, and that make the introduction of
nymphs into his naturalistic landscapes seem altogether reasonable.

And in this predilection for Corot there is interest, since we are
accustomed to hear Inness called “an impetuous and passionate painter.”
Yet in his work there is very little of stress and storm. We remember
him most affectionately, and seem to find him most characteristically
represented in works of such benign repose as “Winter Morning,
Montclair,” “The Wood Gatherers,” “The Clouded Sun,” and “Summer
Silence.” I do not forget that many of his earlier pictures could be
described as passionate; but their turbulence of emotion is seldom
associated with any disturbance in nature. The turbulence is in the
manner of feeling and painting rather than in the subject, in the
interpretation, for example, of a flaming sunset sky over an earth
sinking peacefully to slumber. The passion is in the painter himself;
and, as he matured, ardour yielded to intensity, to the white heat of
concentrated energy. The progress of his art was steadily in the
direction of serenity, that highest quality of calm which is the flux of

Here again becomes evident the essentially religious character of his
art and its point of contact with the religiosity of Rousseau and Corot;
Rousseau’s attained through suffering, Corot’s preserving to the end the
naïve, painless faith of the child. Inness would be drawn to one by
sympathy, to the other by wonder and love. Whence, then, his admiration
of Daubigny? The latter had little intensity and less spirituality; an
easy man, the lockers of whose houseboat contained good creature
comforts. He makes you realize the smile of the earth, and limits his
poetry to the quiet comfortableness of the inhabited and cultivated
banks of his beloved rivers. Partly it was the perennial boyishness of
Daubigny’s heart that, no doubt, captivated Inness. His own soul was
quick and eager to the end, undimmed or worsted up to close on seventy
years, and its sweet freshness was a triumph over the debilitating
effects of frail health, unremitting toil, and protracted struggle. So
the genial, simple lovableness of Daubigny’s character may well have
brought him encouragement and refreshment. But we may suspect another
link of fascination. While Rousseau and Corot were painters of nature,
Daubigny was the painter of the country, of the landscape in its
intimate relation to the life of man. It is not that he introduces
figures, for he seldom does, yet the spirit of mankind broods over
almost all his landscapes; and the normal progress of all of us in our
love of nature is apt to be from wonderland to the land of intimate
affection. A child will be attracted by a gorgeous sunset, and we most
of us begin by admiring nature’s grandeur, nor are disinclined to lose
ourselves in her infinity. But later comes the more seeing eye, which
finds infinite suggestion in little things and a suggestion, also, of
infinity, if the mind craves for it. And then comes, too, a craving to
be personally something in the midst of this infinity, to attach one’s
self to one’s surroundings and share in the common life; so more and
more we grow to value those aspects of nature which recall our intimate
relation to her, and the simple landscape of the countryside is found to
be most companionable. As soon as his circumstances permitted, Inness
established himself in a country home at Montclair, N.J., and
thenceforth the simple charms of his surroundings afford him all the
inspiration that he needs.

To us as well as to himself this is the most beautiful period of his
art, representing the maturity both of his method and ideal. Years of
study and experiment have given his hand assurance and facility. It
obeys the brain implicitly and with a readiness that does not put any
drag upon the full, free play of the imagination. Its ideography is
entirely personal, the brush work having been refined until in the most
succinct and pregnant way it expresses precisely its author’s point of
view. So personal is it that one may with equal certainty deduce the
point of view from the method or trace back the method to the point of
view. Ampleness and simplicity are the characteristics of each. The
ampleness, however, is no longer of space but of significance; the
vision, instead of being long-sighted, has become more penetrating and
embracing; the artist is more thoroughly possessed of his subject. So,
too, the simplicity involves no meagreness of thought, but a thought
fully realized and clarified of everything that might detract from or
confuse its meaning, having also a large suggestiveness, an expression
of the artist’s imagination which invites the exercise of ours. At least
such is the character of the brush work in his best pictures, for there
are others in which the expanses of slightly broken colour, enlivened
only by a few accents, are inclined to be a little uninteresting;
succinct, in fact, without being also pregnant of meaning. If, however,
they seem to be slight and sketchy, it is not because they were done
without heart or care, but because Inness was constantly experimenting
in the direction of more complete synthesis, wherein form for its own
sake is less and less insisted on, and the great motive aimed at is the
character of the scene, and the spirituality which it embodies--a
motive, in fact, of interpretive impressionism.

In view of Inness’s impressionistic tendency that is a curious statement
which has been credited to him, “While pre-Raphaelism is like a measure
worm trying to compass the infinite circumference, impressionism is the
sloth enveloped in its own eternal dulness.” If the remark was really
made by him, it proves that he could be intolerant of others without
trying to understand their motives. Both movements are naturalistic, and
for that reason alone, if for no other, Inness might have tried to
understand them; pre-Raphaelism, moreover, added to its devotion to the
truth of form a profound spirituality, with which quality, at least, he
should have felt some sympathy. Its motive, moreover, was in a measure
humble. It certainly never tried to “compass the infinite
circumference”; on the contrary, it limited itself to fragments and
exaggerated their importance, pictorially speaking, in the general
scheme. Even more misjudged is the application of a sloth to the
analytical refinement and indefatigable study of the most eminent
impressionists. It could not have been their search for the fugitive
effects in nature or for the precise character of some phase of nature
at a certain time that annoyed Inness, perhaps hardly the secondary
place that they sometimes give to form. More likely it was their choice
of a subject without due reference to the accepted conventions of
pictorial composition and, I suspect, still more to their disregard of
that other pictorial convention, tone. I am using the word “tone” to
express the prevalence of some one colour in a picture to which all
other hues are subordinated, and not in that other use of the word which
involves the setting of all objects, lights, and colours in a picture in
due relation to one another, within an _enveloppe_ of atmosphere. We
have become inclined to regard “tonality” as a fetich, forgetting that
it is after all only one of many admirable pictorial conventions, which,
like other pictorial conventions, has no absolutely true counterpart in
nature. No one can affirm conclusively that any one convention has a
prescriptive superiority over all others. It is a matter to be adjusted
by the temperament of the individual. In the neighbourhood of the Hudson
we have days when the atmosphere is extraordinarily brilliant and the
light clear white. I cannot recall any adequate expression of this in
Inness’s pictures. He was drawn rather to early mornings, to evenings,
to quiet afternoons, or the golden glow of summer and autumn, when the
atmosphere is caressing.


     From the collection of James W. Ellsworth, Esq.



Such moods, perhaps, contributed to him more suggestion of spirituality
and were more in harmony with the mysticism of his mind.

Not only had he the faculty of seizing the character of a scene and of
portraying it in terms of eloquent suggestiveness, but he gave it the
impress of his own fine way of seeing it. We remember the effect
produced by viewing a large number of his pictures together, as at the
Clarke and Evans’s sales. What a remarkable distinction pervaded the
group! Not only was the manner that of a master, but of one whose
accomplished technique was at the services of a high order of mind,
evidencing, if one may say so, the gentleman’s way of approaching the
mistress of his heart. His sentiment in no instance that I can recall
sinks into sentimentality. It grew out of a devotion to nature which was
deep enough to merge the personal feeling in an intense and active
sensibility to the impression of the scene itself. So that, without any
posture of mind or even, perhaps, any set purpose, he is poetical. Had
his medium been words, he would have been nearer to Wordsworth than to
Tennyson; satisfied to interpret nature rather than to use her for the
setting of some thought of his own. In this way he was much nearer to
Rousseau and Daubigny than to Corot.



John La Farge has given us two avenues of approach to his personality as
an artist: one through his pictures, drawings, and decorations, the
other through his writings. In the drama of his artistic doings the
writings serve as the chorus, which from its platform in front of the
actual stage interpolates a commentary on the main action, in language
always illuminative, though sometimes of rather complex meaning. For it
reflects, in fact, the complexity of its author’s personality, his
life-long habit of contemplation and the wide horizon over which his
study has roamed, embracing many objects of desire inside and outside
his art, to none of which he can tolerate a short cut, but the
interdependence of which and the relative interest of the paths thereto,
even the inevitable oppositions and compromises, he has always realized
and valued. As Paul Bourget happily says, La Farge’s “least words betray
the seeker of a kind like Fromentin, who thinks out his sensations--a
rare, a very rare power.”

He was a student of art long before he entered upon it as a profession.
It attracted him first as a form of culture, the practice coming later;
quite an inversion of the usual progress of the art student, who gets
manual facility and then culture--sometimes. Nor did art in his early
days present the only form of culture. He received a classical training
of the thorough sort that promotes an intimacy with classic thought and
expression. His father’s house in Washington Square, well stocked with
books and pictures, was the rendezvous of cultivated people, many of
them _émigrés_ of the French Revolution or refugees from St. Domingo.
When he visited Europe in 1856 he stayed in Paris at the home of his
relatives, the St. Victors, where lived his bedridden great-uncle,
author of many works, historical, critical, and artistic, who had known
friends and foes of the French Revolution, had been an _émigré_ in
Russia and still retained his interest in all things, even to the
theatres. Paul de St. Victor, writer and critic, was La Farge’s cousin,
and many remarkable and gifted people came to the house,--Russians,
members of the Institute, priests, art critics, and literary men, among
them Charles Blanc and Théophile Gautier.

La Farge had been taught to draw in a precise, old-fashioned way by his
grandfather, Binsse de St. Victor, a miniature painter of some talent,
and during his visit to Europe he was advised by his father to study
painting under some master, partly as an accomplishment, partly as an
escape from a desultory interest in many things. He, therefore, entered
the studio of Couture, who, however, recommended him to postpone
painting and to study and copy the drawings of the old masters in the
Louvre. “With quite a comprehension of my inevitable failure,” he says,
“I made drawings from Correggio, Leonardo, and others; but my greatest
fascination was Rembrandt in his etchings.” Later he followed the
drawings of the old masters in Munich and Dresden, giving up an
invitation to accompany Paul de St. Victor and Charles Blanc in a tour
of northern Italy. “I have never known,” he writes, “whether I did well
or ill, for I cannot tell what the effect upon me might have been of the
inevitable impression of the great Italian paintings, seen in their own
light and their native place.” He means at that period of his
development, for he saw them later. Next he made a short stay in England
and became acquainted with the works of the pre-Raphaelites, who did not
seem disconnected from the charm of Sir Joshua and Gainsborough, or from
the glories of Turner, “which yet offended by its contradiction of the
urbanity and sincerity of the great masters whom I cared for most.” But
the willingness of the pre-Raphaelites to meet many great problems of
colour attracted him and confirmed him in the direction of his own study
of colour. However, the most important European developments of that
time seemed to him to be represented by Rousseau, Corot, Millet, and
Delacroix. On his return to New York he entered a lawyer’s office, for,
as he says, “no one has struggled more against his destiny than I; nor
did I for many years acquiesce in being a painter, though I learned the
methods and studied the problems of my art. I had hoped to find some
other mode of life, some other way of satisfying the desire for a
contemplation of truth, unbiassed, free, and detached.” His friendship
with William Hunt may have decided him in his career, or his marriage in
1860, which established him in Newport, R.I.

This brief summary represents quite a remarkable method of evolution for
an artist; one that could not be adopted with impunity by many young
men, its very leisureliness offering temptations, of which the least
evil result might be dilettanteism. But La Farge was freed from the
danger by the possession of moral and mental stamina, the breadth of his
sympathies even demanding this gradual development. Nor was it
unaccompanied with strenuousness of interest in


Copyright, 1898, by John La Farge.


Decorative painting in the Walker Art Gallery, Bowdoin College.



John La Farge.

ALTAR PIECE--Church of the Ascension, New York.


the various phases of culture, of which art began by being one and grew
to be the most absorbing.

It was significant that this dreamer should be attracted especially by
the nature students among the living painters. That was indicative of
the depth and sincerity of his contemplations. But it is still more
significant that from the start he should have commenced a critical
study of the problems of colour; this proved the independence of his
sincerity. Another point of great significance, as affecting his
subsequent career, is that, although he afterward made a close study of
anatomy, in his apprentice days he seems to have drawn from drawings
rather than from the living model, studying, in fact, the abstract made
by others instead of the concrete directly studied by himself. Thus the
habit of his mind was directed toward the generalization and
significance of the figure rather than to its anatomical facts. This
made him very early an enthusiastic admirer of Japanese art, and has
proved at once the strength and weakness of his subsequent treatment of
the figure.

It is frequently asserted that his drawing is not always correct, and
from the point of view of the schools he would probably himself plead
guilty to the charge. But those who insist upon the point do not perhaps
quite comprehend his motive, which is less the actual structure of the
form than the inherent significance of the figure. Let us grant at once
that the two motives are not antagonistic, that Millet’s “Sower,” for
example, is as structurally correct as it is full of significance. But
that is to put La Farge to the test of one of the greatest masters of
drawing, by comparison with whom very few can stand. By far the greatest
number of draughtsmen, while approaching him in correctness, will be far
behind him in expression. On the other hand, in the case of La Farge,
the significance of a pose or gesture, the vital expression of a figure,
is generally admirable. I have in mind, for example, his drawing of
Bishop Hatto, pursued by rats. The distance from the thigh to the toes
would appear to be exaggerated; but how wonderfully the long drawn out,
tense arc of the figure stimulates the imagination to a realization of
the agony of the crisis. There is another point. The figure, as it is,
so exactly contributes to the decorative balance of the picture. It may
be that the instinct of the decorator determined the length of limb, and
perhaps also, not at all improbably, the influence of the Japanese. It
would not be difficult, for instance, to find in Outamaro’s lovely
prints of women just such an elongation to accentuate the _svelte_ grace
with which he wishes to invest them.

I make this suggestion with more confidence, because one can trace in
the composition of this picture more than a little of the Japanese
arrangement of full and empty spaces; that irregular form of composition
which secures a balance by oppositions rather than by repetition of
similarities. It is, indeed, the method of the nature student, as true
of Velasquez and Rembrandt as of the Japanese. Not that La Farge with
his choice appreciation of the old masters could be insensible to the
influence of the Italians. His great altarpiece of the Ascension in the
Church of the Ascension in New York is reminiscent in its structure of
Raphael’s “Disputá.” The space is very similar in shape, and filled with
a broad band of figures across the base, a central figure in the upper
space, and flanking arcs of angels. Again the mural paintings of “Music”
and the “Drama” in the music room of Mr. Whitelaw Reid’s New York house
were evidently suggested by the pastoral scenes of the Venetian
painters. The latter, however, were themselves, no doubt, suggested by
the desire to emancipate painting from the rigidity of preconceived
formulas of composition, and it is just this attempt to discover a
compromise between the natural and the conventional which is so marked a
characteristic of La Farge’s treatment of mural painting.

It may have been an early feeling after this that at least helped to
draw him toward Rembrandt, especially toward his religious subjects. I
find more than a little of the latter’s influence in the mural paintings
in the churches of St. Thomas and of the Incarnation in New York,
particularly in the solemn, serious naturalism of the grouping; in the
humble devotion with which the spirit of the occasion has been
comprehended, and in the significance of gesture and expression, but
especially of gesture, through which this spirit has been embodied. A
boy’s freshness of faith, dignified by a man’s realization of its
import--a quality very rare at any period, and quite likely to be
overlooked in this one. It is the outcome of a religious temperament--a
thing very different from the religious habit--born of a capacity to
feel deeply the significance of things, and by instinct and culture
fitted to see the beauty inherent in the significance, whether it be the
significance of the spiritual or of the material life or of the subtle
analogy between the two. When the painter can comprehend this and set it
down on the threshold of every-day experience, in such a way as to make
it intimate without being commonplace, its human meaning neither
lessening, nor lost in, the splendour of its expression, we may
reasonably call him great.

And no one denies to La Farge a splendour of expression. He is that
_rara avis_ among artists, who not only sees the world as a pageant of
coloured light, but has found means to express his visions. His
inherited instinct for colour has been assiduously cultivated by
observation and scientific study, the researches of Professor Root of
Columbia University having been enthusiastically followed and adapted by
him to his practical requirements. When circumstances brought to him the
opportunity of executing windows, immediately came into play his
extensive memories, his dreams of possibilities, and, equally, his
independence of conventionalized methods. Finding that he could not
reach adequate results in the material available, and realizing the
weakness of existing methods, he experimented until he discovered the
adaptabilities of opaline glass, which has a suggestion of complementary
colours, “a mysterious quality of showing a golden yellow, associated
with violet, a pink flush on a ground of green.” Moreover, by the
infinite variety of modulations, which its making admits, it allows a
degree of light and shade in each piece of glass, which not only gives
modelling, but increases the depth of tone, sufficient at places to make
the darker parts melt softly into the harsh lead-line. This invention
by John La Farge of the applicability of opaline glass to the making of
coloured windows has put a wide range of means in the hands of the
artist, not only in the general richness and equally possible delicacy
of effect, but in the increased subtlety attainable through
complementary effects and effects of opposition; the material including
all kinds of variety in the texture, quality, thickness, and even
pattern of the glass, and also almost every variation of density and
transparence. It is a palette of extraordinary range, perilously
serviceable in the hands of an ambitious person of meagre knowledge and
feeling, quite susceptive of commonplace exploitation in those of the
ordinary designer. But in the hands of a true artist, who thinks in
colour, and has a store of gathered observations backed with scientific
assurance, it permits the fullest scope to his imagination, and the
opportunity of realizing the most diverse and complex schemes of colour,
allowing him to reproduce much of the mystery that time has wrought into
the mediæval stained glass, and to add to the latter’s chantlike
simplicity of colour and structure the complicated harmonies of modern
music. It is an art, indeed, that brings the decorator within measurable
distance of the musical composer.

The new intent of this glass and the subsequent developments which have
made of it a new fabric were so much the outcome of La Farge’s personal
need of expression that it is not surprising he has reached results
superior to those of others who employ the same medium. A reason which
also contributes to his superiority is that his conception from the
start formulates itself in colour, whereas the genesis of most windows
would appear to be in the lineal design, clothed in colour afterward. In
other words, like every true craftsman, La Farge thinks in his material.
The effect of this has been, at least, twofold. In the first place,
there has always been a reciprocity of influence between his imagination
and his material; while he has been big enough to anticipate the
possibilities, he has been big enough also to accept the limitations of
the medium. In the second place,--and this really follows from the
former,--he has preserved an independence in the character of the
design, neither attempting to reproduce that of the old cathedral
windows, nor dipping, except occasionally, into that universal cook-book
of the average designer, the ornament of the Renaissance. With a larger
sense of fitness he found, if anywhere, a prototype for his motives in
Eastern art, not only in the mosaics of Byzantium, but in the jewelled
inlays, lacquers, textiles, and _cloisonné_ of Japan. Particularly is
this true of the windows of pure decoration which he has executed for
private houses and again of those superb windows in the west end of
Trinity Church in Boston. In these a cultivated taste will be disposed
to feel that the splendour and mystery of the fabric are most abundantly
manifested. It is pure decoration of the most subtle and resplendent

On the other hand, as soon as the figure is introduced, particularly
when the figure must subserve a religious sentiment, a compromise has to
be effected between the abstract decoration and the concrete form,
between the conventional and the naturalistic. And the inevitable
antagonism between the two has become more difficult to reconcile in
these days, both for the artist and for ourselves who enjoy his work,
because we are no longer satisfied with the simple abstractions of the
human form, which sufficed for the childlike faith and narrower
experience of ancient peoples. In all his figure windows, therefore, it
is most interesting to study how he has eschewed the pictorial motive,
which unfortunately the immature taste of the public so persistently
demands, and to which, either on compulsion or because he knows no
better, the average designer inclines. La Farge, on the contrary, while
frankly admitting the claims or the necessity of naturalistic treatment,
endeavours, as far as possible, to find some modern form of abstraction
for the figure, and to offset it with a freer abstraction or
conventionalization in the rest of his composition; so that while the
significance of the figure, its form and sentiment, is not swamped,
there yet survives the impression that the window is not a picture in
glass, but an elevated decoration of transparent and translucent mosaic,
inlaid in a _cloisonné_ of ornamental lead-lines.

In a brief appreciation of this artist’s work it is natural to dwell
upon him in his capacity of a master decorator, for the whole trend of
his activities, at first, perhaps, unconsciously, later with a purpose
continually strengthened and expanded, has been in this direction. And
he has proved himself a master not only within the restricted field of
American art, but in comparison with the master decorators of Europe.

I have spoken of La Farge’s writings being a commentary upon his
artistic acts. Often it is in a man’s lighter moments that he makes
clear to us the workings of his mind, and La Farge has done so in the
journal which he wrote during a vacation in the South Sea Islands. It is
the spontaneous utterance of a scholar, at once a dreamer and an
analyst; of an artist, also, who sees pictures everywhere; and its
word-painting and many-faceted allusiveness to all kinds of memories,
derived from art and life and literature, render these impressions of
new scenes, which still retain some flavour of the antique world, unique
in their exquisite beauty and suggestiveness. Let me quote one passage:
“From the intricate tangle of green we saw the amethyst sea and the
white line of sounding surf, cutting through the sloping pillars of the
cocoanuts that made a mall along the shore; and over on the other side
of the narrow harbour the great high green wall of the mountain, warm in
the sun, its fringe of cocoanut groves and the few huts hidden within it
softened below by the haze blown up from the breakers. All made a
picture not too large to be taken in at a glance.” Nor yet too distant.
The harbour, observe, is narrow and bounded by a high green wall of
mountain. The picture was not shaping itself to him as it might have
done to the eyes of a pure landscapist, but in a comparatively flat
pattern, as of a wall or window decoration. He sees it with the instinct
of a decorator and with his own personal predilections; for he dwells
upon the combination of green and blue, which any student of his work
may feel to have particular fascination for him. He notes in one part
the tangle of green, its suggestive subtlety of pattern and tone; in
another, where the huts are half hidden, the welcome spot of density;


Copyright by John La Farge.


Decoration in the Church of the Paulist Fathers, New York.


the value of mystery in the haze; and finally he correlates the beauties
of contrasted forms and spaces and the varying brilliance and softness
of the coloured light. As I said, it is a decorator’s vision, and the
same in their different degrees of sketchiness is revealed in the
water-colour drawings made at the same time. They are so many notes and
records of a mind perpetually intent on decorative problems.

Recently he wrote a short but exceedingly suggestive appreciation of
Puvis de Chavannes, suggestive most of all because of its conscious and
unconscious implication of his own experience and desires with those of
a brother master in decoration. In their moral and mental elevation
there is much affinity between the two men: Puvis, a Burgundian by
birth, by education a Lyonnais, simultaneously, therefore, romantic and
logical; La Farge, of French descent with romantic and adventurous
associations, yet influenced by the vital practicalness of American
environment. Both have sought to reconcile their respect for tradition
with their interest in the living present; and to recognize the
limitations imposed both by their medium and by their own individual
personality, disciplining themselves to accept the inevitable and to
carry their personal development to its farthest possibility. Its
manifestations in each case are widely different: the robust Puvis
detaching himself more and more from the material and tending to an
extreme of spiritual refinement; the frailer physique of La Farge
reaching out farther and farther toward the interpretation of spirit by
means of material splendour. The differences were personal and local;
but in the quality of their minds and their attitude toward art there is
an unquestionable affinity between these two preëminent master

If I read La Farge’s art aright, it is the product of a wide and
penetrating vision, simplified by selection; the theme is then
comprehended in its vital significance, and all the force of his
imagination is assembled to embroider it with a web of elaborate



We are already far enough away from the middle of the last century to
gain a fair perspective of it. In matters of belief and feeling, it was
a period of little faith and less initiative. Men moved forward with
their faces turned backward,--in the religious world, seeking ideals in
mediævalism; in art, also, borrowing their motives from the past. It was
a time of rediscovery, of revivals; less of new birth or growth than of
new assimilations. Velasquez, for example, was found to exist; so, also,
Rembrandt; and Caucasian civilization became conscious of an Oriental
art from farther round the globe than the Levant or even India. Japan
was discovered. Today these three names represent potent influences in
art. A few years ago their significance was not appreciated beyond the
studios; still a few years farther back, and scarcely even there. It was
Whistler’s discernment that early recognized their worth; his genius
that utilized the significance so uniquely. How he did it is
characteristic of himself, but equally of the modernity of which he is
so consummate a representative.

And what of this modernity? Intrinsically it is not a new thing, though
taking on some special colour from its particular time of reappearance,
being indeed a culture of manners rather than of convictions. It is
analytical, for it is part of, or compelled by, the contemporary
scientific movement; it is intolerant of restraint, except such as it
chooses for itself; is callous when not personally interested, and finds
its interest in subtleties; its faith is self-found and felt to be
honoured by the discovery; in scope not so much broad and embracing as
diffused and discriminating; for depth, it substitutes a carefulness
about many things, and for sincerity a nice tactfulness. It is polished,
dainty in taste and manners, seeking the essence of life in its most
varified appeal to the senses, even sometimes in abnormal depravity. It
is, in fact, the very antithesis of brawn and muscle, of hard and
wholesome thinking, of the _bourgeoisie_ and Philistinism, through which
a comfortable world is provided for modernity to bask in, either as a
rarely delicate exotic or a upas tree.

While Whistler as a man, in his attitude toward the world, has been the
Beau Brummel of this nineteenth-century modernity, he has kept his art
in a beautiful isolation, selecting for it only the choicest
contributions of the spirit of the age and impressing upon them the fine
distinction of his unique personality. Thus, while some of his
contemporaries in the search for new sensations pushed their analysis
into the gutter, his work has been invariably fragrant and pure. He has
been a consistent apostle of beauty, of the sane and normal type of it.
I do not mean beauty as it is commonly understood, for he has had his
very personal ideas and his own modes of reaching them; but that the
source in which he has always looked for them has been sane and normal;
so that, amid the craving for new sensations and for new forms of
expression, by which, like others, he has been affected, and with a
taste also for notoriety and for shocking the vulgar, he has never in
his art deviated from the sweet and wholesome. Nor has he lived without
a strong faith. He has believed in himself without reservation, and just
as absolutely in his art as he has formulated it. There is one god, and
Whistler is its prophet; a creed narrow and intolerant, but abundantly
justified, if you accept his god, which, again, is Whistler--the
spiritual _ego_ within him to which all his life he has tried to give an
adequate expression.

For his faith at root is a very simple one: the love of beauty and the
expression of it; only beauty with him is one of essence and
significance, quite removed from any literary allusiveness, and as far
as possible expressed by means which are solely the products of brush or
etching needle, sensation and method approximating as much as may be to
the exclusively abstract ones of music. He cannot escape the concrete
altogether and must often use as vehicles of expression things to which
the dictionary assigns terms, and to which the association of memory and
ideas has given a verbal significance. But even in using these he feels
such significance extraneous, and subordinates it as far as possible to
the special æsthetic significance of the pictorial art. It is the
meaning that these things have for the artist’s peculiar vision that he
tries to keep free from other allusion--abstract. It is not the object
before him for the time being that is worth his consideration, but the
enjoyment of the purely æsthetic impression of it aroused in his own
mind, of which he seeks to express the essence in his picture. It is a
theory of art all but too subtle for human nature’s daily food; in a
world in which we are continually confusing cause and effect, the object
with the subject, the source of our enjoyment with the enjoyment itself;
a theory quite intolerable when exploited by a mediocre painter, or by a
facile painter of mediocre mind; only, perhaps, so acceptable in
Whistler’s case, because it is essentially a product of his own unique

It was his craving for abstract expression as well as for abstract
sensation that led to his symphonies; and the storm of abuse and
ridicule which they aroused gave him, no doubt, a keener relish for such
studies. It would be too much to say that any of them were done
deliberately to mystify the public; but that he found a sly relish in
the mystification is most probable, and one may believe that some of
these, to him only experiments in the record of impressions, were
exhibited with the Satanic purpose of infuriating a public, so enamoured
of the “finished picture.” Today, however, these studies are applauded,
and Whistler is probably as contemptuous of the undiscriminating
approval as of the indiscriminate abuse. For really their vogue is as
open to suspicion as would be a vogue of Bach. In their lack of any
graspable theme and in their delicately elaborated orchestration of tone
they can be appreciated, priced, that is to say, at their proper worth,
only by those whose sense of colour is very cultivated; nor even,
perhaps, by all of them, for these impressions are so personal to their
author that they must always mean more and otherwise to him than to

The vogue, therefore, may well make him sad, and sadness with Whistler
takes the form of contempt. It is the distortion of his character or the
bias to its flaws produced by opposition. Conviction has stiffened into
arrogance, individuality become deflected toward an attitude of pose.
These blemishes are absent from his work, which is always serene and
lovable; they are merely incidental to the man and should not enter into
an appreciation of his art, except that he has himself forced a
recognition of them even upon his admirers. It is this aspect of him
which Boldini has thrust upon the world in his well-known portrait. I
have always resented it, for it is founded only on partial fact,
suppressing the better facts and smacking too much of Boldini himself
and of the pruriency of suggestion, with which he has invested so many
portraits. The Whistler that we see in this picture, sitting sideways on
a chair, his elbow on the back of it and his long fingers thrust through
the snaky black hair, represents the last word in modernity; thrilling
with nervous vibration, keyed to snapping intensity; a creation of
brilliant egoism, quivering on the edge of insanity; the quintessence of
refined callousness and subtlety. How much truer to the man and the
artist is Rajon’s portrait; nimbly impressionable, clever and elegant,
the lurking devil in


     From the Luxembourg Gallery.




     From the collection of Colonel Frank J. Hecker.



the eye and touch of cynicism on the lip not enough to disguise an
underlying sweetness and freshness of mind. The other, in its
half-truth, is a travesty; this one, very expressive of the mingled
qualities of this remarkable man.

For none but a man of peculiar sweetness of mind could have conceived
that masterpiece in the Luxembourg, “The Portrait of My Mother.” Garbed
in black, as you will remember, she sits in profile, with her feet upon
a footstool and her hands laid peacefully and elegantly on her lap; the
lawn and lace of her cap delicately silhouetted against the gray wall.
She gazes with tranquil intensity beyond the limit of our comprehension
along the vista of memories, leading back through maternity to a
beautiful youth. Nor is there any cynicism in “The White Girl,” that
symphony in white, rejected at the Salon of 1863, when the artist was
twenty-nine years old, but conspicuous in the _Salon des Refusés_. The
girl stands mysteriously aloof from all contact with, or suggestion of,
the world, her dark eyes staring with a troubled, wistful look, as if
she had been surprised in her maiden meditation and were apprehensive of
something she cannot fathom, and is too reliant upon herself to wholly
fear. The picture is no brilliant epitome of shallowness, but an almost
reverential conception, in exquisitely idealized degree, of the poetry
of maidenhood, maturing normally. In both these pictures, which come as
near as anything which Whistler has done to the generally accepted idea
of a subject, it is the significance, in the one case of motherhood, in
the other of maidenhood, that he has dwelt upon, and in both with the
fullest reliance upon the æsthetic suggestion to the sense,
respectively, of black and gray, and of white, elaborated to an extreme
of subtlety. It would be impossible, I mean, that the colour schemes,
for example, could be reversed; each is so intentionally and
conclusively the language fitted to the idea, that one might as well try
to put the words of Juliet into the mouth of Volumnia.

In pictures like “The Music Room,” there is a further step toward
abstraction. So far as it represents the interior of a room with walls
of ivory-white set off with dainty rose-sprigged curtains, in which a
lady in black riding-habit stands by a marble mantelpiece, while a child
in white frock sits a little farther back reading, it is a _genre_
picture of that sort that Alfred Stevens painted, done not for any
particular significance in the figures, but for the opportunity which it
yields of a delicate scheme of colour and exquisite adjustment of
values, and for the pure enjoyment of representing the æsthetic
significance of these qualities. But it is at once more subtle and more
daring than Stevens could have wrought. It involves a problem, the very
difficulty of which no doubt keyed the artist to enthusiasm, to keep the
child in white behind the figure in black, and to make the latter a
distinguished ornament in the picture, while still preserving its pliant
relation to its light surroundings--a problem not improbably suggested,
in part at least, by one of Outamaro’s prints, at any rate in its
Caucasian transposition worthy to be compared with the work of the
Japanese master. Nor is it only a problem in skill. Jet is beautiful in
tone and texture, and so is ivory, and the combination of the two, set
off with delicate accents of rose, creates a beauty of its own.

“Variations in Flesh and Green--The Balcony” may be selected as a still
further advance toward abstract sensation and expression. These girls in
kimonas, standing, sitting, and reclining on the edge of a river with a
glimpse of factory chimneys across the water, mean nothing in a
“subject” sense, and lack even the reasonableness of the figures in the
previous picture. They are parts of a fantasy, pure and simple, to which
they contribute impersonally; an artist’s dream of atmosphere and
colour, which you will enjoy or not, according as you can enter into the
abstract intention of the artist. Reaching the essence of beauty to a
degree still less alloyed is such a picture as “Bognor--Nocturne”: blue
smooth water with shadowy shapes of trawlers gliding like dusky
phantoms, and of figures standing in the shallow surf; blue sky and
atmosphere, penetrated with silvery luminousness. It is a scene of
exquisite refreshment to the spirit, mysteriously etherealized, the
artist being so absorbed with the spiritual presence of the summer night
that his own soul echoes its very heart-beats.


From the collection of Charles L. Freer, Esq.


By James A. McNeill Whistler.]

Once again, then, in all these pictures, it is the essence or innermost
significance of the theme that Whistler treats; itself a quality so
immaterial that he shrinks from expressing even matter in too distinct
or tangible a form, enveloping it in a shrouded light, representing it
as a concord of coloured masses with a preference for delicate monotony
of hues and soft accentuations, seeking by all means to spiritualize the
material. And this without loss of stateliness; he has learned the
dignity of the great line from Velasquez, and from him, too, the
magisterial use of blacks and grays. Nor with the wild irrelevance of
the visionary; there are piquancy and virility in all his pictures, not
of lively colour and rampageous brush work, but attained through subtle
surprises of detail and decorative originality--qualities gleaned from
the Japanese. Again, in the trancelike intensity of Rossetti’s figures,
he may have found a quality akin to his own spirituality of sentiment,
just as his love of light and of delicate discrimination of values links
his art to that of the impressionists. And out of these various
influences, his own personality, irresistibly original, at once fanciful
and penetrating, serene and nervous, permeated with the quintessence of
sensuous refinement, he has fashioned for himself a language “faithful
to the colouring of his own spirit,” in the strictest sense original and
stamped with style--a style that is simple, earnest, grand.


From the collection of Charles L. Feer, Esq.


By James A. McNeill Whistler.]

And even closer precision of personal expression appears in Whistler’s
etchings. For to one who seeks to render, not the facts, but his sense
of the facts, etching offers greater freedom than painting. It is the
art of all others which permits an artist to be recognized by what he
_omits_, the one in which the means employed may be most pregnant of
suggestion and in closest accord with the personal idiosyncrasy of the
man. To Whistler, therefore, with his intense individuality, his
discerning search for the significance of beauty and his instinct for
simplicity and economy of means which will yet yield a full complexity
of meaning, etching early became a cherished form of expression. In the
“Little French Series” (1858), the “Thames Series” (1871), the “First
Venice Series” (1880), and the “Second Venice Series” (1887), as well as
in other plates etched in France, Holland, and Belgium, he has proved
himself the greatest master of the needle since Rembrandt. Indeed, the
eminent painter-etcher and connoisseur, Sir Francis Seymour Haden, is
credited with the assertion that, if he had to dispose of either his
Rembrandts or his Whistlers, it would be the former that he would

There is a great difference, even in the point of view, between the
Dutch master and his modern rival. Both approached their subject, if one
may say so, in a reverential way; but the former with an absorption in
the scene and a desire to reproduce it faithfully. Whistler, on the
other hand, with more aloofness of feeling, selecting the mood or phase
of it on which he chooses to dwell that he may inform it with his own
personal sense of significance. The Rembrandt print--to borrow De
Quincey’s distinction--is rather a triumph of knowledge; the Whistler a
triumph of power. While the method of both represents the highest degree
of pregnant succinctness, Rembrandt drew the landscape while Whistler
transposes from it. The visible means, in his later etchings, become
less and less, their significance continually fuller; and in his study
of phases of nature he has carried the interpretation of light and
atmosphere beyond the limits of Rembrandt.

In the “Thames Series,” which has perpetuated the since vanished
characteristics of the old river side, he came nearest to the Dutch
etcher, recording the scenes with a comprehension of detail as complete
as that of Rembrandt’s “Mill.” Seeking always the significance of his
subject, he seems to have felt that here the significance lay in the
curious, dilapidated medley of details; that even a weather-worn timber
and the very nails in it contributed their share to the impression, so
that, while he must needs select and omit, the problem was one of how
much to _avoid_ omitting. On the other hand, in his later prints, the
problem is reversed. Following his own personal evolution toward more
complete abstraction, both in sense and expression, it is how little he
may put in and yet express the full significance.

Whistler’s art, in brief, is logically related, alike to realism, to the
poetry of the men of 1830, and to the motives of the impressionists, and
represents the wider influence of his times in its keen analysis of
phenomena and the independently personal bias he has given to it; in the
search for new sensations of the most subtle kind and in a tendency at
times to exalt good manners, that is to say style, above the qualities
of intrinsic merit. His art has been too much a product of himself,
notwithstanding that it reflects in spiritualized form the higher
tendencies of his age, for him to have been the founder of a school or
to have influenced followers directly. Yet, indirectly, his influence
has been weighty. Alike by his example and by his pungent utterances he
has been instrumental, more than others, in giving a _quietus_ to
mediocrity in art, both to the bathos of the literary picture and to the
banality of merely imitative painting. Mediocrity still lingers and must
linger as long as commonplace minds devote themselves to painting; but
its prestige has been so successfully impaired that now we regard a
taste for it on the part of a collector of pictures as an infantile
disease, like the measles, incidental to an early career of
appreciation, though not necessarily fatal to more matured

Whether we shall ever reach that degree of cultivation which will need
no further stimulus to enjoyment in a picture than such abstract
suggestion to the imagination as music affords, time alone will show.
Meanwhile, as we are able to conceive of a picture now, it has its
genesis in the concrete, from which even Whistler has not tried to
emancipate himself entirely. There is a beautiful humanity in most of
his work, the humanity of human nature or the human relation of the
landscape to ourselves; and if he is able sometimes to enchant us
without any apparent human significance, it is because he is Whistler--a



A summary of John S. Sargent’s position as an artist must recall the
exhibition of his work shown at Copley Hall, Boston, in 1899. There were
exhibited some fifty portraits and seventy-five sketches and studies,
while hard by in the Museum hung his large subject picture, “El Jaleo,”
and in the library could be seen his mural decorations. It was an
impressive showing, both in amount and quality, for an artist then
little over forty years of age.

But Sargent has been a favoured child of the Muses, and early reached a
maturity for which others have to labour long and in the face of
disappointments. He, however, had never anything to unlearn. From the
first he came under the influence of taste and style, the qualities
which to this day most distinguish his work. The son of a Massachusetts
gentleman who had retired from the practice of medicine in Philadelphia,
he was born in Florence, and there spent his youth. The home life was
penetrated with refinement; a good classical and modern education came
in due course, and all around him were the dignity and beauty of
Florence, its tender beauty of atmosphere and colour and the noble
memorials of its galleries and streets. Perhaps no city in the world has
so distinctive a spirit, at once stimulating to the intellect and
refining to the senses. Those of us who have felt it only after years of
buffeting in a grosser atmosphere can but guess what it means to have
come under its influence from childhood, during the impressionable
period of youth up to eighteen. And not as a mere resident of the place,
from the force of habit purblind to its charm, but quickened by parents
who themselves were products of another kind of civilization, keen to
appreciate, to absorb, and to live in its spirit; possessed, also, of
the American temperament so alert and sensitive to impressions, while
removed from the dulling influence of our exceeding practicalness.

When the young Sargent knocked at the studio of Carolus-Duran in the
_Boulevard Montparnasse_ with a portfolio of studies under his arm,
drawings from Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, he was no smart young
student, full of up-to-date ideas. Very modest he is described as being,
of quiet, reflective disposition, pleased that his drawings won the
approval of the master and the

[Illustration: CARMENCITA.



     From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



enthusiasm of the students, and eager to set himself to learn. With a
facility that was partly a natural gift, partly the result of a steady
acceptance of the problems presented, he proceeded to absorb the master;
his breadth of picturesque style and refined pictorial sense, his sound
and scientific method, not devoid of certain tricks of illusion and his
piquant and persuasive modernity--the sum total of an art that was a
modern Frenchman’s paraphrase of one of the biggest of the old masters,
Velasquez. At twenty-three he painted a portrait of Carolus, which shows
he had absorbed his master so thoroughly as to be unconscious of the
incidentals of his method and to have grasped only the essentials with
such complete assimilation, that what he produces is already his own.
Later, he himself visited Madrid and came under the direct spell of
Velasquez. The grand line he had learned while still a boy, and from
Carolus the seeing of colour as coloured light, the modelling in planes,
the mysteries of sharp and vanishing outlines, appearing and reappearing
under the natural action of light, realism of observation at once
brilliant and refined, large and penetrating; and all these qualities he
found united in the subtly grandiose canvases of the great Spaniard.
Finally, from all these influences, he has fashioned a method very much
his own.

And how shall one describe this method? It reveals the alertness and
versatility of the American temperament. Nothing escapes his
observation, up to a certain point at least; he is never tired of fresh
experiment; never repeats his compositions and schemes of colour, nor
shows perfunctoriness or weariness of brush. In all his work there is a
vivid meaningfulness; in his portraits, especially, an amazing
suggestion of actuality. On the other hand, his virtuosity is largely
French, reaching a perfection of assurance that the quick-witted
American is, for the most part, in too great a hurry to acquire; a
patient perfection, not reliant upon mere impression or force of
temperament. In its abounding resourcefulness there is a mingling of
audacity and conscientiousness; a facility so complete that the acts of
perception and of execution seem identical, and an honesty that does not
shrink from admitting that such and such a point was unattainable by
him, or that to have attained it would have disturbed the balance of the
whole. And yet this virtuosity, though it is French in character, is
free of the French manner, as indeed of any mannerism. For example, his
English men and women, his English children especially, belong
distinctly to English life. Though he may portray them in terms of
Parisian technique, he never confuses the idioms, being far too keenly
alive to the subtle differences of race.

This skill of hand is at the service of a brilliant pictorial sense.
Like a true painter, he sees a picture in everything he studies. Perhaps
it would be truer to say that he sees _the_ picture, the one which for
the time being has taken possession of his imagination and to which he
is willing to sacrifice even truth, or at least some portion of truth,
rather than to permit the integrity of his mental picture to be
impaired. This pictorial sense is one of the sources of the greatness
and of the less than greatness in his work. It gives to each of his
canvases a distinct æsthetic charm; grandiose, for example, in the
portrait of “Lady Elcho, Mrs. Arden, and Mrs. Tennant,” ravishingly
elegant in the “Mrs. Meyer and Children,” delicately quaint in the
“Beatrix,” and so on through a range of motives, each variously
characterized by grandeur of line, suppleness of arrangement, and
fascinating surprise of detail; used with extraordinary originality, but
always conformable to an instinctive sense of balance and rhythm. And
then, too, how tactful is the selection of pose, costume, and
accessories! With what taste he creates environment for his conception
of the subject!

It is, however, in regard to the conception of his subject that Sargent
challenges criticism. How far does he render the character of the
sitter? To say that his characterization is slap-dash and superficial
is, surely, going too far. It was confuted by that exhibition of fifty
portraits, which represented at least fifty distinct persons. Nor with
that panorama of his art in one’s memory can one admit that he has no
real sympathy with his sitters. Very possibly, however, it is not a
_personal_ sympathy, and for two reasons. He is a picture maker before
he is a portraitist, and in portraiture has less interest in the
individual than in the type which he or she represents. This latter
particular is symptomatic, partly of the artist himself and partly of
his times. He is not of the world in which he plays so conspicuous a
part, but preserves an aloofness from it and studies it with the
collectedness of an onlooker interested in the moving show and in its
general trends of motive, but with an individual sympathy only
occasionally elicited, as when he paints Georg Henschel, like himself, a
musician. Again it is an affectation of the class from which most of his
sitters, especially the ladies, are drawn to exhibit the studied
unconviction so deliciously represented in Anthony Hope’s “Dolly
Dialogues.” The elegant shallowness of so many of his portraits is true
enough in a general way, and very likely in the individual case. There
is another type, embodying the thinking-for-herself and the greater
latitude of action of the modern woman. They are, to a certain extent,
the product of an age of nerves, and in his portraits of them there is
perceptible an equivalent restlessness of manner, a highly strung
intention, almost a stringiness of nervous expression. Again, I can
recall in the Boston exhibition two portraits of ladies whose _esprit_
was of a kind that quiet folks would consider fast. Their cases also had
been keenly diagnosed and met with the skill of an artist who did not
care to extenuate, nor on the other hand had fallen under personal
subjection to the physical attractiveness, but set down what he saw and
surrounded it with the elegant atmosphere that was its salvation in real
life. It is here that he compares to such advantage with a painter like
Boldini. Sargent has instinctive refinement. It would be quite
impossible for him to have any feelings toward his subjects other than
those of a true gentleman; and, though he may represent in a lady a full
flavour of the modern spirit, he never allows the modernity to exceed
the limits of good taste. For the same reason Sargent’s pictures, though
many of them have a restlessness of their own, seem quiet alongside
Boldini’s. The latter makes a motive of nervous tenuosity, and his
pictures, if seen frequently, become wiry in suggestion, and defeat
their own purpose of being vibrative; but Sargent’s, controlled by a
fine sobriety of feeling, another phase of his unfailing taste and tact,
retain their suppleness. Their actuality is all the more convincing
because it is not the motive, but an incident.

Yet, even so, this actuality is of a very different quality from that
reached by the old masters. I have in mind an inevitable comparison,
suggested by his portrait of Mr. Marquand in the Metropolitan Museum
with one by Titian on the same wall and with a Franz Hals, a Velasquez,
and a Rembrandt in an adjoining gallery. In all these latter there is a
gravity of feeling that is not alone due to the subduing effects of
time; while Sargent’s portrait, even apart from the sleek fatness of the
brush work which age will mature, is the product of a habit of mind
altogether different. It lacks the intimacy of the “Wife” of Franz Hals,
the penetrating depth of the “Doge Grimani,” the quiet assurance of
Velasquez’s “Don Carlos,” and the intense sympathy of the Rembrandt,
though the last two are only moderate examples of the masters. Instead,
it reveals a certain assertiveness in its assurance, an intensity of
nervous force rather than of intellectual or sympathetic effort, a
brilliant epitome rather than a profound study. It has not the
permanence of feeling, either in its characterization or method; that
suggestion of perennial, stable truth, which, so far as we can judge
from the past, would insure it a place among the great old masters of
the future. Among the masters we may feel certain that Sargent will be
reckoned as having been one of the most conspicuous figures of his age;
but his vogue will rise and dwindle according to the amount of interest
felt for the time being in the age which he represented; it will
scarcely have that inevitableness of conviction, which, when once
recognized, must abide. If this forecast is correct, the reason is that
Sargent, though raised above his time, scarcely reveals in his portraits
elevation of mind; he has the clear eye of the philosopher without his
depth and breadth of vision; he has possessed himself of his age, and
the age has taken possession of him. He swims on its sea with strokes of
magnificent assurance, but with a vision bounded by the little surface
waves around him; he has not sat above upon the cliffs, quietly
pondering its wider and grander movements.

So the intimacy revealed in the great majority of Sargent’s portraits is
of that degree and quality which passes for intimacy in the polite
society of to-day--a conformability to certain types of manner and
feeling, with interesting little accents of individuality, that shall
distinguish without too keenly differentiating; traits of style rather
than of personality. Sometimes there is even less than this. The
subject would seem to have got upon the artist’s nerves, interfering
with the usual poise of his study, so that he seems to have allowed
himself to be sidetracked on to some loopline of the temperament.
Occasionally he touches a deeper level of intimacy, as in the portraits
of Henschel, Mr. Penrose, and Mr. Marquand, and oftentimes in children’s
portraits, notably in that of Homer St. Gaudens. But for the most part,
I believe, it is not the personality of the sitter that attracts us so
much as that of the artist, which he has seized upon the occasion to
present to us; a personality of inexhaustible facets and of a variety of
expression that, for the time being at least, creates an illusion of
being all-sufficient.

What a contrast he presents to Whistler, with whom he shares the honour
of being among the very few distinctly notable painters of the present
day! Sargent with his grip upon the actual, Whistler in his search for
the supersensitive significance, are the direct antipodes in motive.
Each started with a justifiable consciousness of superiority to the
average taste of his times; but while Whistler, on one side of his
character a man of the world, has in his art withdrawn himself into a
secluded region of poetry, Sargent, almost a recluse, has delighted his
imagination with the seemings and shows of things and with their
material significance.

Is the reason for this merely that success claimed him early and that he
has not been able to extricate himself from the golden entanglement, or
that deeper one, noticeable in many artists, that their artistic
personality is the direct antithesis of that personality by which they
are commonly known to the world? Otherwise, this man with his gift of
seeing pictures, with his power of a brush that seems loaded with light
rather than with pigment, with his smiting force or tender
suggestiveness of expression--what might he not have done had he
followed the bent of his mind, a mind stored with culture, serene and
reflective? Something, doubtless, less dazzling than his portraits, but
more poetical, more mysteriously suggestive, more distinctly creative.
As it is, some little studies of Venice, such as “Venetian Bead
Stringers,” come nearer probably to the true spirit of Sargent; to that
exquisiteness of fancy which he developed more completely in the study
of children lighting lanterns in a garden, “Carnation Lily, Lily Rose.”
The refined originality of this embroidery of light and shadow, the
lights so brilliant, the shadows penetrated with mystery, the
affectionate tenderness with which the children and flowers are
represented, the lovely imaginativeness of the whole conception, bespoke
qualities which have appeared only partially in the portraits, and are
altogether of a rarer significance than their vivid actuality. This
picture is perhaps even more acceptable than his elaborate decorations
in the Boston Public Library, because it represents more unreservedly an
artist’s vision and one of such delicate apprehensiveness. The
decorations involve a more laboured, conscious effort to produce
something noble, and the literary allusion encroaches somewhat upon the
æsthetic. Yet to enjoy them we are not bound to thread our way through
the maze of mythological suggestion. The panels are full of dignity and
beauty, considered purely as decoration; finely rhythmical in the
frieze, stern with tensity of form and deliberate harshness of colour in
the lunette, a labyrinth of tapestried ornament in the soffit of the

Their significance, both as decoration and allusion, is progressive,
passing from the serene simplicity and tempered realism of the prophets,
through the mingling of human tragedy and symbolism in the misery of the
apostate Jews, up to the bewilderment of beauty and horror in the
representation of the tangle of false faiths. Moreover, this graduation
of motive bears a very skilfully adjusted relation to the architectural
function of the several spaces embellished. Unfortunately the room
itself has very little architectural reasonableness, and is unworthy of
the decorations, which will not establish their full dignity of effect
until the remaining spaces are filled. So it is scarcely fair to compare
them with Puvis de Chavannes’s in the same building, which involve a
completed scheme, for which, too, the architects made due provision.
Further, the motives of the two artists are so radically different:
Puvis, content to shadow forth a vague conception in abstract terms;
Sargent, seeking to embody the facts of men’s mental and moral life in
their direct and actual significance. It was a more daring problem, and
one that perhaps is more closely knitted to the feeling of our times.
The solution is a most notable attempt to bring the intellectual
faculties into harmonious accord with the æsthetic.

It is along the line of these decorations and of “Carnation Lily, Lily
Rose” that one believes the true Sargent may be discerned. In them he is
giving utterance to himself; in his portraits responding with a certain
_hauteur_ to the allurements of his day.



In the American section at the recent Paris Exposition, no painter made
a more distinct mark than Winslow Homer. The foreign critics seemed to
be conscious of a fresh note in his pictures: one not traceable to
European influences, still less suggestive of Parisian technique; a note
of unmistakable force and independence. Could it be considered
representatively American?

Almost for the first time this question appeared to be asked with a real
interest in the answer. Foreigners had long been acquainted with
painters from America, who came over in increasing numbers, and showed a
remarkable faculty of quickly assimilating the teaching and influences
of Europe. But were there any distinctively American painters? Those
students who remained in Europe, though many of them were individual and
forceful men, merged themselves more or less completely in their new
environment. What, then, became of those who returned to America?
Presumably they carried back with them the Europeanisms they had
acquired. So far as could be judged from the showing made by American
painters at previous expositions, they were but reflecting the
influences of Paris or of German and English painting. Was there, in
fact, as distinguished from art in America, any American art? And with a
languid interest in a matter so far detached from their personal
knowledge, the foreigners had answered the question for themselves,
negatively. However, the Exposition of 1900 contained an American
section which revealed a great deal of motive and character that could
not be lightly dismissed as but a reflex of Europe. It might have been
made even more representative of the difference which the American
environment is steadily impressing upon the work of Americans who live
and paint at home; but notwithstanding its shortcomings in this respect,
the exhibition undoubtedly gave evidence that such difference already
existed. The evidence was largely of the circumstantial kind, to be
gathered not from any patent fact so much as from a collating of various
hints of motive and character, and from a comparison of them with those
exhibited in the pictures of other countries.

Then one gradually became conscious of more sobriety, earnestness, and
simplicity; in fact, of a more obvious conviction, in the American work


     From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.




     From the collection of Samuel Untermeyer, Esq.



than in that of the French section as a whole. The Americans did not
seem to be painting in obedience to some vogue, still less with the
purpose of creating one; they were not thrashing around for motives
which should electrify, by shock or thrill, and prove a brief sensation;
nor, on the other hand, did they seem to be bent upon exhibiting the
particular advantages of this or that method of technique. Their work
for the most part was unassuming and straightforward, penetrated with
realism and often tempered with poetic feeling; not less suggestive of
the true painterlike way of conceiving the subject because it was
executed with so little desire to exploit the mere painterlike facility
of brush work, and yet showing a sound and advanced acquisition in
technique. Indeed, it was in this particular that the American work
showed superior to that of Norway, with the fresh, vigorous spirit of
which it otherwise had so much in common. These qualities of earnest
force, of directly independent vision and strong, straightforward
treatment, so conspicuous in Homer’s pictures, drew the foreign critics
to a conclusion that this virile personality might be really
representative of American art.

And so it is in the sense that it embodies the qualities and point of
view for which all our most individual painters are striving, though
its power and depth place him above any direct comparison with other
painters, unless it be with Homer Martin. Like the latter, his art has
grown out of and into the circumstances of his environment, the most
reasonable and fertile way of growth both in plant life and in the life
of man. As a boy at Cambridge, Mass., he led the true boy’s life,
interested in animals, fond of fishing, observant also of the character
and forms of nature, early recording his impressions on paper in a long
series of methodically careful drawings. So, from the start, he learned
to feel things and to see things for himself, and to express them as
they affected him. The accident of an advertisement in a local paper
landed him in a lithographer’s workshop, where for two years his habits
of methodical application were confirmed, leaving him at the end no less
earnest and enthusiastic as a student, but determined that henceforth he
would bow the neck to no one. After a brief sojourn in a Boston studio,
during which he contributed drawings to Harper and Brothers, he came up
to New York, refusing an offer to enter the art department of those
publishers, but accepting an appointment at the outbreak of the war to
represent them at the front. Meanwhile, he had been attending the night
school of the National Academy, and taking lessons in painting from
Frederic Rondel, a Frenchman, then in considerable repute as a painter.

His contributions to _Harper’s Weekly_, though somewhat tamely precise
in drawing, gave with much spirit the character as well as the episodes
of camp life. Subsequently, on his own behalf, he paid two more visits
to the Army of the Potomac, during which he put in practice what he had
learned of painting, finally producing “Prisoners from the Front.” This
picture, shown at the exhibition of the National Academy in 1864, made a
profound impression. Popular excitement was at fever heat, so the
picture fitted the hour; but it would not have enlisted such an
enthusiastic reception if it had not approximated in intensity to the
pitch of the people’s feeling. It has, in fact, the elements of a great
picture, quite apart from its association with the circumstances of the
time: a subject admirably adapted to pictorial representation,
explaining itself at once, offering abundant opportunity for
characterization, and in its treatment free from any triviality. On the
contrary, the painter has felt beyond the limits of the episode itself
the profound significance of the struggle in which this was but an eddy,
and in the generalization of his theme has imparted to it the character
of a type.

It is at this point that the true artist parts company with the mere
practitioner, however accomplished. His work is more than of local and
temporary interest; it has a savour, at least, of the universal, which
keeps its significance from perishing. The savour need not necessarily
be serious; it may be, as in Watteau’s case, a distillation of the
elegance of life; but with Homer its seriousness was inevitable, his
temperament seeming to require a ground-bass of motive, grand and
solemn. So when he occupies himself with character pictures, drawn from
country life, they are comparatively trivial. He cannot, like Millet or
Israels, discover the fundamental note of humanity beneath the
individual. That note may be solemn enough, but it is not big enough in
a forceful way to awake his imagination. His pictures of this genre are
shrewdly studied and reasonably good in characterization; but, being
detached from any background of big intention, their interest is merely
local, and they are not done with that ease and style which might secure
them technical distinction. But while waiting for the fountain of his
motive to be again moved, how commendable it is that he did not set to
work to repeat his success of the “Prisoners from the Front,” as a
smaller man would have been tempted to do!

At length, however, he finds again the fundamental motive which he
needs, this time in the inspiration of the ocean. Off and on for many
years he has led the life of a recluse on a spit of land near Scarboro,
Maine, whose brown rocks piled in diagonal strata have from time
immemorial withstood the onset of the Atlantic combers; an atom of
impregnable stability in presence of vastness, solitude, and the
perpetual flux of elemental forces. Grounded on his own stalwart
individuality, he has kept himself aloof from the truck and scrimage of
conventional life and filled his soul with the vastness of nature. How
instances of this isolation from the world multiply in the story of art:
Watteau retreating into the impenetrability of his own soul; Delacroix
and Puvis de Chavannes into their barred studios; Rousseau, Millet, and
the rest of their brotherhood into the recesses of the forest. Such
isolation seems to be the road to greatness; partly, perhaps, because
the man himself must have the elements of greatness in him to wish to do
without the constant reinforcement of the world, where men and women
prop their shoulders together and make believe that they are standing

Henceforth, then, the ocean supplies the ground-bass of motive in
Homer’s art, and the magnitude of its influence begins to inform his
work. Deepening in significance, it becomes simpler in expression, and
the simplicity is revealed in a fuller synthesis of manner; it grows in
comprehension, in force and directness, gaining breadth and freedom of
execution, greater purity and subtlety of colour. But he does not at
once realize the full significance of the ocean itself. For a time he
sees only its secondary significance in relation to the life of the
fisherfolk, to whom it is, at once, the means of existence and a
perpetual threat of danger. He paints such grandly dramatic pictures as
“The Life Line,” “Eight Bells,” “Danger,” “All’s Well,” “Undertow,”
“Watching the Tempest,” and “Perils of the Sea”; a series of dramas to
which the ocean is the background. How original they are: the subject
seen so individually and carving itself out in the artist’s imagination
with such incisive force! Moreover, what wholesome breadth in his
sympathy! He does not, like Cottet, the eminent painter of the
fisherfolk of Brittany, picture the lives of his people as darkened by
the pall of an irremediable fatality. He paints them as strong men and
women, fronting with strength the vicissitudes of their existence; a
point of view entirely akin to his own strong force of character. For
here one reaches the tap root of his


     From the collection of George A. Hearn, Esq.



power. It is character: a personal strength; not of the complex kind
that diffuses itself over many issues, but self-centred and direct. It
is the actuality of things which perpetually seizes his imagination and
on which he concentrates for the time being all his energy. And, surely,
it is because this is so essentially the quality of present American
civilization that he is preëminently the most representative of American
painters. He is a product of his time, has sucked nourishment from it,
and translated its nobler quality into terms of art.

But it is in his marines that he seems to reach the ripest maturity of
his genius; and most completely, perhaps, in the “Maine Coast.” The
human import of the ocean has spoken home to him at last, in its least
local significance. This picture involves a drama; but the players are
the elements; the text, of universal language; the theme, as old as
time. With the enlargement of purpose has come a corresponding grandeur
of style; they realize, as no other marines with which I am acquainted,
the majesty, isolation, immensity, ponderous movement and mystery of the

      “boundless, endless, and sublime--
    The image of Eternity--the throne
      Of the Invisible.”

--They seem to be the spontaneous utterance of a soul full to
overflowing with the magnitude of its thoughts.

A word must be said of Homer’s skill in water colours. They have the
quality of improvisation; snatches of impression, flung upon the paper
in the ardour of the moment; tuneful bits of movement and colour,
gladsome as the light and quick with the spirit of the occasion; and,
being so close to their author’s intention, they have a vigour and
directness all his own.



It was but yesterday, though in this country that is a long time ago,
that American painters with the zeal of the neophyte were declaiming
against the story-telling picture. Of course, we know that the objection
was well taken in regard to a large class of pictures, wherein the story
was the “thing,” the way of telling it merely incidental and generally
banal. But, like many other good principles pushed to excess, it
resulted in a bathos as complete as that from which it would have saved
us. Countless canvases have been painted, which possess no human
interest and very little artistic justification; the barren issue of a
mere negation. Slowly there is coming a reaction, and we are beginning
to realize that a painter is none the less an artist for having
something to say, may even ultimately depend for his ranking as an
artist upon the quality of what he has to say, provided always that he
says it in true painter fashion, with reliance, in fact, upon the
vocabulary of his own particular art.

Among those who have never allowed themselves to be troubled by the
art-for-art’s-sake grain of truth in a bushel of chaff is Edwin A.
Abbey. As an artist he must largely stand or fall upon his merit as a
teller of stories. Have his stories been intrinsically interesting? Is
his way of telling them artistic? That he has won his way from a stool
at the drawing table of Harper and Brothers to a seat in the Royal
Academy will not of itself convince a great many people, who are of the
opinion that the story-telling picture is just what attracts the English
and is the bane of their Academy. So, to reach an acceptable estimate of
Abbey’s rank as an artist, we must confine ourselves strictly to the
character of his work, both in pen and ink and in paint.

It was in 1871, when he was nineteen years old, that he passed from his
student days at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts into the
employment of the Harpers, becoming one of the firm’s band of
illustrators, including, among others, Charles S. Reinhart, Howard Pyle,
Joseph Pennel, and Alfred Parsons, who helped to draw attention in
Europe to the superiority of the chief American illustrated monthlies.
In 1878 came his first great opportunity, when he was commissioned to
illustrate some of the poems of Herrick, and, in search of material,
visited England, where, except for a few short visits to this country,
he has remained ever since. He betook himself to Stratford-on-Avon and
Bidford, and later to Broadway, in Worcestershire.

Probably every true artist has within him a little world of his own, an
island in the ocean of the world around him, a little spot of fact, on
which flourish the trees and flowers and personages of his imagination.
He is happy if circumstances permit him to work in it, and still more
happy if his world of fancy has some correspondence to the actual world
about him. Such was Abbey’s happiness in having his footsteps directed
through rural England. On the other hand, it could have been no accident
that put it in his way to illustrate an old-time poem. The whole tenor
of his subsequent work, since he has been at liberty to choose his own
subjects, proves that the bias of his temperament is toward the past: to
the days of picturesque costume, to a period remote enough to justify
his fancy in selecting what it would, and ignoring what it would not.
Nor do I overlook the fact that Abbey from the first has shown an
ability to create from within himself an environment for his
conceptions. Yet, even so, he could not have lighted on a place more
fertilizing to such a temperament than the English scenes among which he
has moved, with their old-time associations and simple rural

Broadway, for instance, is on the old post road that runs from London,
through Oxford, on to Worcester and the west; within easy reach of
Stratford and Kenilworth; its nearest station, Evesham, an old market
town where Simon de Montfort, who first stood up for Englishmen against
the Norman conquerors and for the rights of the common people, was slain
in battle. As you near the village the pleasant vale of Evesham narrows
into a horseshoe of hills, gentle slopes of verdure intersected with
hedges, and rimmed with coppices and woods. Millet’s house is at the
entrance; a little farther on, the village green; and a little farther
still a fine old gabled inn, where Cromwell, says the story, slept after
his victory at Worcester. The broad street, continually mounting, passes
between gabled farmhouses, buried in ivy, and cottages whose windows are
bright with pot geraniums and little gardens filled with the flowers and
herbs that Ophelia crooned of; past doorways that bear the date of that
first James, “the most learned fool in Christendom”; past the remantled
farmstead where Mary Anderson in her present _rôle_ of wife and mother
would fain forget that she has been a star; till it winds up in a thin
line of white between the green and


Copyright, 1902, by Carnegie Institute.




From the collection of Whitelaw Reid, Esq. Copyright, 1902, by Whitelaw Reid.



(Painted in 1895 to occupy a special place in the room where it now

brown, and vanishes at the top of the hill, where beyond the mounds and
hollows of a Roman encampment there is only the knowledge of a modern
world. But you have scarce seen Broadway until you have penetrated into
some of the cottage and kitchen interiors, with their wide-open hearths,
smoke-stained timbered ceilings, from which hang hams and flitches of
bacon and strings of onions; or passed to the backs of some of the
houses and explored the dairies and quaint inglenooks of architecture,
the trim vegetable gardens, the apple orchards and the barnyards, in
close companionship with which is always the vivid green of the pleasant

And it was in such places that Abbey gathered material for his
illustrations to “Selections from the Hesperides” and “Noble Numbers” of
Robert Herrick; to the “Old Songs” and “She Stoops to Conquer”; a spot
wherein there must have been so much akin to his own moods of
imagination. What wonder that his drawings have the fragrance of apple
blossom and new-mown hay, the sweet musicalness of rippling brooks, the
delicate atmosphere of the quiet life, and the savour of the old-time
spirit! Within the limits of their particular intention, I doubt if any
drawings are more perfect. Nor do I forget those drawings of the country
by Alfred Parsons, made about the same time and around the same spots;
drawings which show such apprehension of the subtle qualities of rural
beauty, such an eye for lovely fragments, such a sensitive artistry in
picturing them. But the difference in the work of these two close
friends throws a clear light on the special quality of Abbey’s mind.
Parsons pictured what he saw, interpreting the bit of nature in
daintiest terms of art; while Abbey has the power of calling up a
picture in his imagination. Yet in these drawings, at least, there is
not an act of pure imagination; for the text of the poem or play
supplies the idea. His skill is shown in the vivid recreation of the
borrowed theme; in a delicate tact of choice, in his way of representing
it and of illuminating it with a few choice details, and in his manner
of setting the figures and objects in an atmosphere of their own. And I
am not thinking now of that technical accomplishment which surrounds the
figures with an envelope of lighted air, but of that more poetical gift
which enables him to recreate the impression of the old-time feeling. As
he says himself, a picture of bygone manners should be treated as an
artist of its own period might have treated it. It is undoubtedly
Abbey’s faculty of borrowing the habit of mind as well as of manners of
the past that gives a special distinction to these drawings.

But the recognition of this should not obscure the larger faculty of
which this is only a phase, of being able to illuminate the text; to
illustrate it in the true sense, for the term has fallen into discredit.
This is partly the fault of publishers who are apt to insist on the most
literal interpretation of the text, instead of allowing the artist to
reinform the essence of the text with the spirit of his independent art;
and partly, no doubt, to the inability of many draughtsmen to do more
than baldly literalize. Thus we have a perpetual crop of so-called
illustrations, either crowded with detail or almost flippantly negligent
of anything but a certain loose bravura of line and spacing, clever, if
you like, but tediously similar in general character. “She rose to greet
him”--can you not predicate with tolerable accuracy how such and such a
one among many illustrators would represent the incident? In Abbey’s
case you could not. The phrase would formulate in his mind a picture;
complete, daintily suggestive, full of the charming quality of
unexpectedness. But it is when an illustration tries to enforce the text
by picturing some incident of prime importance in the story, with its
play of passion, perhaps, and diverse possibility of appeal to different
minds, that the effort of the ordinary illustrator is so hopelessly
jejune. Such subjects are only partially acceptable when one like Abbey
essays them. Indeed, many of us may have felt that where, as in
Shakespeare, the scene is one of very full significance, affecting the
sensibility of different thoughtful readers as diversely as the same
passage of music will affect its auditors differently, one’s
intelligence and power of appreciation can hardly be satisfied with any
one man’s crystallizing of such fluidity and diversity of appeal into a
fixed presentment.

Abbey’s illustrations to Shakespeare, though I know they are considered
one of his greatest triumphs, have seemed to me to mark the beginning of
less perfection. Again, I am not speaking of the craftsmanship, but of
the spirit that animates the artist. So long as he confines himself to
fragments from the scenes and to subordinate persons, or to those whose
character is very simple and direct, his old charm remains; but when he
attempts a complex character, as that of Portia, he necessarily cannot
please all comers; and when he essays to build up scenes, the old
spontaneity of imagination seems to dwindle. It is as if the foliage of
a tree were beginning to lose its freshness and twinkle of artless
movement; as if by degrees the leaves were losing sap and falling; and
the naked boughs, the bare construction of the tree, were gradually
being revealed. And in Abbey’s case it seems to be a process that has
been going on more and more as he passed to the use of paint and to the
building up of important _mise en scènes_, such as “Hamlet,” “Richard,
Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne,” or “The Penance of Eleanor,
Duchess of Gloucester.”

His passage to paint was but a question of time; not only because to all
artists it seems to offer the largest scope, but because, as a
draughtsman, he has always had the feeling of a colourist. He has
avoided hardness of contours, softening them with light and atmosphere,
and merging the figures in the ensemble. The latter are not merely set
against a background, they are always in and part of the picture.
Further, he sees them as masses. You will scarcely find in his drawings
authority of line, or fascination in the direction and quality of the
line as line; instead, an infinity of little lines, not without feeling,
doubtless, but without a separateness of æsthetic value. It is in the
mass that they count; so that a woman’s gown will not afford a sweep of
movement, but a delightful tissue of lights and shadows. And when he
proceeds to colour it is again the mass that captivates him--masses,
especially of black, of crimson and white. But with this very marked
love for colour, he is not a colourist in the sense of weaving
harmonies of colour. His pictures are still a balancing of masses rather
than an effect of orchestration; and in the voluminous draperies that he
introduces, while there is much influence of the amplitude of Venetian
painting, there is little of its love of light or bigness of
architectonic use of colour. In his treatment of coloured masses he is
nearer to the manner of Holbein or Van Eyck. He does not seem to have an
antecedent realization of the structure of his colour scheme, but builds
it bit by bit, and the units more or less retain their separateness.
Yet, while there is a lack of breadth in the picture as a whole, the
parts are broadly treated, and often with a fine freedom of stroke. In
his earlier paintings, such as the “Pavane,” belonging to Mr. Whitelaw
Reid, he was still drawing with his brush, but in his later ones the
manner has become a painter’s.

But no less natural than this progress of his technical evolution has
been that of his mental one. In the course of this how could he well
escape the Shakespeare cycle; not only because he had begun by
interpreting old English poems and plays, and it was only a question of
time as to when he would feel the influence of the poet-dramatist, but
also because his imagination is of the dramatic kind. He would have made
an ideal stage manager of the highest type. As I have said, it is less
by any originality of conception that his imagination is distinguished
than by an aptitude for grasping the thought of another, reclothing it
with actuality, setting it in its appropriate environment, and making it
breathe again with the spirit of its time. But such a gift, on the stage
at least, is rarely, if ever, accompanied by personal histrionic
ability. It is a gift, of selecting, assembling, and combining, rather
than of absorption of self in a given line of motive. The stage manager
gives the appearance of life to a scene, the actor makes it live, and I
wonder whether it be not true that in these Shakespearian canvases of
Abbey’s and in his mural decorations of the Holy Grail in the Boston
Public Library there is a marshalling of the scene without the dramatic
force. Do they carry us away and fill us with the emotion that we should
receive in presence of the play well acted on the stage or in the
reading of the legend intelligently? We find ourselves, I believe,
rather studying the parts of those elaborate productions, the accuracy
and beauty of detail, admiring the manipulative ability that has
collected and coördinated, and waiting, meanwhile, for the drama to

And if this is true, may it not be the result of choosing for pictorial
representation a subject of such complex emotions as the player’s scene
in “Hamlet,” or one of such almost inexplicable subtlety as Richard’s
love advances to Anne as she follows in the funeral procession of her
dead husband, or even one of comparatively directer significance as that
of “The Penance of Eleanor”? In his last picture, the “Trial of Queen
Katherine,” he has not attempted to portray the climax of the scene, but
the first pathetic pleading of the “most poor woman.” Surely he did well
to seize for representation this intermediate movement in the scene. He
has gained thereby our human sympathy for a subject which might easily
have been too complicated with highly strung emotions to be immediately
intelligible. And it is one of the merits of this picture that its
appeal is not only impressive but immediate. He has exhibited a tactful
modesty, and I use the word with a thought of its real meaning, which is
something choicer than moderation. He might have attempted a more heroic
note, pitched it to the extreme possibility of the scene. But he avoids
a _tour de force_; and draws us as much by persuasion as by strength; by
the strength, in fact, of what he holds in reserve.

For the peculiar qualities of his strength are quietness and depth. One
may find it in “The Jongleur,” where coming from the castle gate,
flanked on each side by a sheltering range of roof, cheerless outside,
but suggesting cheer within, across the waste of snow the man in
motley’s solitary figure is seen, wincing as he faces the cold and
touching a strain on his mandolin to keep up his spirits. It is a
beautiful picture, full of significant suggestion, not only of the
immediate incident, but of the pathos of the life which lives to amuse
others and of the emptiness of the world for one whose spirit is apart
from it. It is a picture that compares in spontaneousness of expression
with the earlier drawings, and has the fuller import of a maturer mind.
Surely it is along lines such as this of purer imagination that Abbey
will find his truest self.

To his decorations at the Boston Public Library much of what one has
said of the Shakespeare paintings is applicable. They are not dramatic;
their impressiveness is of a quiet and tempered sort. As one becomes
familiar with these pictures, their power to make one feel the
reasonableness and the beauty of the old thought; to feel it, too, not
as something entirely strange, but as of present interest, grows and
grows upon one. The intellect that has conceived them is not of the kind
that leaps to an inspired result. Its quality is choiceness and delicacy
of imaginativeness that wins us by persuasion.

In these pictures, as generally in his others, it is the women that he
introduces who are the most captivating features of the conception. How
beautiful they are! The alluring purity of expression, for example, in
the faces of the Virtues is irresistible. Their heads, fragrantly pure,
sway like a row of lilies in a gentle wind. Their motionless bodies are
arrayed in costumes of delicate richness, each one of which is
differently exquisite; the expression is mostly signified by movement of
the hands and head; along the line there is a simultaneous act of
unveiling, diversified by separate traits of modesty. Perhaps the most
captivating of all the figures is that of the one who holds the young
knight’s left hand. She draws back and yields at the same moment, with a
gesture in which there is a most subtle mingling of confidence and
hesitation. The touch of man is so new to her, yet who may doubt this

One of the gems of the whole series is the representation of
Blanchefleur, sitting in her dove-gray wedding gown; rose-wreathed and
holding roses in her lap; gazing before her with a look of surrender, so
infinitely spiritual. In her as in the Virtues the painter has made
purity adorable; neither ascetic nor ecstatic, not at variance with the
humanity of womanhood, but represented as its choicest flowering.
Again, in his rendering of the angels he helps us to realize that they
are creatures of the imagination; especially in the last picture, where
their form is vague and they are felt rather as presences. And to this
detachment from mere humanity spiritualized corresponds the expression
of their faces; the rapt adoration of beings raised above the stir of
human passion, in an atmosphere of calm where passivity is action.

However, judged as a series of decorations, following around the frieze
of a room, these pictures are less satisfactory. They count as units,
rather than in progression. One fails to find a rhythmic continuity or
periodic emphasis of movement and colour, they vary conspicuously in
size and colour and in character of composition and motive, and make
their impression separately, instead of being in consecutive accord.

But if from a decorative standpoint these canvases are open to adverse
criticism, let it not divert attention from their essential merit. Such
big and serious effort is none too usual in painting--the opportunity
for it, one must add in fairness, too infrequently occurs--so that, when
one meets it, one’s heart goes out in appreciative acknowledgment.
Within the scope of Abbey’s primary intention of commemorating a great
theme in a series of noble pictures and of reinvesting old truth with
present force, he has achieved a triumph that will win the admiration of
all to whom seriously imaginative work appeals.



When Fortune is apportioning qualities to the artistic temperament, she
does not always include character. I mean that unflinching rectitude of
purpose which at once answers “Adsum!” to the call of duty, and is not
of the kind that says, “‘I go, sir,’ and went not.” Sacrifice to the
call of art is by comparison a slenderer quality. It is not so difficult
to suffer for the sake of an ideal, especially when a man is young, or
even when he is old, if he keeps his heart young within him, a faculty
which is often rather an incident of the artistic temperament than a
matter of personal effort. But sacrifice to the call of duty, a duty
outside of the art ideals, represents a much higher quality, demanding
the exercise of personal force and the maintenance of a quite unusual
endurance; the quality, in fact, which one sums up as character.

This is one clew to the reading of George Fuller’s life as an artist;
that, at the call of what seemed to him to be his duty, he gave up the
single-aimed pursuit of the treasure where his heart lay; disregarded,
as the world would say, the chances of a lifetime for the dull monotony
of a life of arduous routine, and yet, despite the sacrifice, more
probably because of it, found his ideal after all. But there is another
clew. Fuller’s ideal and his craving after artistic expression were bone
of his bone, flesh of his flesh, an integral, inseparable part of
himself. They did not need stimulating any more than a healthy appetite,
were so normally a part of him as to preserve their natural functions
under any circumstances of life. This is not the way in which artistic
proclivities always reveal themselves. In some cases the art instinct is
not dissimilar to a taste in waistcoats; double-breasted to-day,
to-morrow, single; sprigged, plain, coloured, sober, to meet the
occasions of the moment; put off as easily as put on; a habit rather
than an instinct. This is the trivial, masquerading side of art, so
detestable in a solid world of facts; a conscienceless sniffing of the
air for change of fashion, that reminds one of the jackdaw with a few
peacock feathers in his tail, strutting around and trying to deceive us
into recognizing his superiority to fowls of ordinary degree. I doubt if
the true artist ever humbled himself to proclaim his worth, and nothing
more proclaims his worth than his beautiful humility. It was so, I am
sure we may believe, in Fuller’s case. He was not even conscious of his
power in the way that smaller men of less character are: only conscious
of something that he longed to do and would do in time, if life were
spared, notwithstanding the claims upon his attention of other and more
mundane matters. The beauty of such a process of evolution is all from
within: natural, like the bursting of the honeysuckle into fragrance and
blossom over waste, dry places; not to be judged by what it might have
been in other soil and climate, but fulfilling its special function of
beauty through the inherent mystery of its own independent force.

The product of good New England stock, George Fuller was born at
Deerfield, Mass., in 1822, his father being a farmer and his mother the
daughter of a lawyer. At thirteen years he was taken to Boston and put
first into a grocery and later into a shoe store, but only for a short
time, soon returning to the home farm and resuming his studies at the
country school. Already he had displayed a taste and aptitude for
drawing. When fifteen, he joined an expedition to Illinois that was
engaged in making surveys for the first railway in the state, and then
again, after two years, returned to school at Deerfield. It soon became
evident that the youth had more leanings toward art than business, and
he was allowed to accompany his half-brother Augustus, a deaf mute who
painted miniatures, in a ramble through the smaller towns of New York
State, executing portraits at fifteen dollars apiece. How much of simple
romance there was in these beginnings: the early influence of the hill
life, for Deerfield is a village among the hills; the wider freedom on
the western prairies; and the roaming from place to place with paint box
and wallet, light of heart and heel! All these influences tended toward
independence, self-reliance, and wholesomeness of mind, to the natural
and firm upbuilding of the individuality in himself, before he came in
contact with influences directly artistic. He was fortunate, also, in
his early friendship with artists of so fine a quality of mind and
beautiful personal character as the sculptors Henry Kirke Brown and
Thomas Ball. The former, eight years his senior, invited him to his
studio in Albany, where he studied drawing for nine months, until Brown
and his wife went to Europe. Then he spent the winters of 1842 and 1843
in Boston, returning to Deerfield each summer. In the latter year,
having been elected a member of the Boston Artists’ Association, he
wrote to Brown, who was then in Rome, “I have concluded to see nature
for myself, through the eye of no one else, and put my trust in God,
awaiting the result.” It is just such simple-souled, reliant men who can
possess their souls with patience and reach their end by waiting.

In these early days at Boston, during part of which he shared a studio
with Thomas Ball, he was painting portraits; but in 1846, the year after
his mother’s death, he sold his first imaginative picture, “A Nun at
Confession,” to a patron in Pittsfield, Mass., for six dollars! In the
following year he moved to New York at the solicitation of his friend
Brown, who had returned home, eager to devote the experience he had
gained abroad to the representation of American subjects in America.
During the ten years which followed of study and work in New York,
varied with visits to Philadelphia and the South, it is not difficult to
trace the effect of Brown’s influence upon his earnest friend. One
result of it was to prepare the latter for his own visit to Europe; to
open his understanding beforehand to the wonders that he was to see, and
at the same time to habituate him to an attitude of study, which would
enable him to receive the technical lessons of the various schools and
their stimulus to the imagination without being lost in the wealth of
impressions or unduly influenced by any one of them. The opportunity to
visit Europe came in 1859, when, at an interval of only a few months,
both his elder brother and father died, so that the duty of caring for
the farm and for those left dependent upon it fell to him. But before
settling down he made a tour of five months, visiting London,--where he
met Rossetti and Holman Hunt,--Paris, and the chief cities of Italy,
Germany, Belgium, and Holland; making sketches in the galleries, and
finding especial delight in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Rubens,
Velasquez, Rembrandt, Correggio, and Murillo, apparently with a
particular admiration for the colourists.

An infinite pathos, we may feel, gathers over this visit, affording, as
it did, a view of the Promised Land to a pilgrim whose steps were so
peremptorily recalled to the hard routine of the far-off hill farm; a
first meeting with the lady of his imagination in her full glory at the
moment when he found himself compelled to forego entire allegiance; a
brief vision of the ideal before setting his hand to the prosaic reality
of life. Yet, perhaps, to feel this is to misread the nobility of
Fuller’s character. To him, we may believe, there was a fuller, more
rounded comprehension of beauty in life, manifested simply in the living
of it well with hands and back and brain as well as with the subtler
forces of the imagination; that in this big organic beauty, the beauty
of art might be a fly wheel, but still


Copyright, 1899, by Curtis & Cameron.



was only a part of the beautiful whole. So what seems to us such a
tremendous sacrifice, to him may have been assuaged by the satisfaction
of having the method in which his life should be lived so clearly set
before him; and in this reading of his mind one pays, perhaps, the most
honourable tribute to his character.

For fifteen years no picture by him was seen at the exhibitions, and
only a few intimate friends knew that he still painted in the intervals
of farm labour; at first in one of the rooms of his home, and later in
an old carriage house, converted into a studio. His subjects were
elaborations of the sketches made in Europe, small landscapes, and
portraits of his children, relatives, and friends; often never finished,
sometimes destroyed because they did not reach what he desired.
Meanwhile his work on the farm was successful; many improvements were
carried out, and tobacco culture was introduced with good results, until
the fall of prices in 1875. This forced him into bankruptcy and restored
him to art. During the ensuing winter he finished twelve canvases, which
were exhibited at Boston, meeting with hearty praise and a ready sale.
In 1878 appeared at the exhibition of the National Academy “By the
Wayside” and “The Turkey Pasture in Kentucky,” followed in succeeding
years by “The Romany Girl,” “And She was a Witch,” “The Quadroon,” and
“Winifred Dysart.” Being elected a member of the Society of American
Artists, he sent to its exhibitions “Evening--Lorette, Canada,”
“Priscilla Fauntleroy,” and “Nydia.” Among his other works, exclusive of
numerous portraits, especially of ladies and children, were “Psyche,”
“The Bird Catcher,” “Girl and Calf,” “Fedalma,” and “Arethusa,” the last
named being his single example of the nude. But this rich aftermath of
creative work was all too short, lasting only eight years, for George
Fuller died after a brief illness in March, 1884. He was buried at
Deerfield, and a few weeks later a memorial exhibition was held in
Boston comprising 175 paintings: an almost complete _résumé_ of what
existed of his art work, produced through forty years. Two years later
the house of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. published a sumptuous memorial
volume, containing appreciations by W. D. Howells, Frank D. Millet,
Thomas Ball, W. J. Stillman, and J. J. Enneking; a sonnet by Whittier,
and engravings by Closson, Kruell, and Cole.

It is useless to speculate upon what might have been if Fuller’s
productivity had not been interrupted by those fifteen years upon the
farm; but when he emerged from them it was with a style of painting very
different from his early one. That had been hard in outline, minute and
careful in finish; now it was immersed in atmosphere, tenderly elusive,
quietly luminous, a revery of colour, reticently harmonious. It was no
longer the work of an observation intent upon the outer world, but the
outpouring of his innermost spirit, mellowed, chastened, become
contemplative by time. One may believe that the outer world had become
more and more identified with the necessities of his life, from which he
sought a refuge within himself in his own dreams of spiritual beauty.
For the names of his pictures count as little as the subjects. In all
his best, notably in the “Winifred Dysart,” “Nydia,” “The Quadroon,” and
in “The Romany Girl,” especially that example of the latter owned by J.
J. Enneking, he is not concerned with portraying the individual but a
type, and in giving to it especially a significance of spirit, investing
it in each case with phases of what he had learned to realize as the
spiritual quality of rarest, subtlest beauty. How could the essential
fragrance and indefinable loveliness of maiden innocence as it appealed
to the matured sympathies of his advanced years be expressed otherwise
than he had felt it,--veiled in the romance of shadowed light, a thing
too rarely delicate for sharp, decisive handling? And yet beneath this
tender suggestiveness of method, what strong brush work is discernible!
Not clever, truly, or facile and masterful; rather plodding, ay,
tentative, as of compressed emotion striving patiently for expression.
One has seen a dreamy, tender treatment of the female form, which had no
such staunch underlying structure to support it, work which attracts by
what we hastily style subtlety, and later find to be but an exquisite
veneer to an unstable conception; the artistic affectation of men whose
coarseness of character belies the exquisiteness, and, as one studies
their pictures longer, leaves us unconvinced of their sincerity. But in
the purity of Fuller’s conceptions the man himself and his deliberate,
habitual conviction are embodied.

It is a remarkable feature of Fuller’s development that whereas in age
he belonged to the earlier generation of American painters, he should
have emerged from his fifteen years’ retreat and unaided communing with
himself more truly modern in feeling than the younger men who were then
returning from Paris. By very different ways he had reached an ideal not
dissimilar to Whistler’s; not, to be sure, expressed with the latter’s
inimitable, because so personal, _finesse_, but alike in its devotion to
the abstract and in realization of the correspondence between painting
and music, and not so unlike in its method of expression, so reticent
and mysterious. Fuller also anticipated the motives of the still younger
man, such as Le Sidaner and Duhem, to whom the inherent spirituality of
the landscape or figure is the absorbing search, which they seek to
embody in terms as intangible as possible. Wrapt from all contact with
the distractions of the art world, he had with the prescience of
sincerity put forth his hand toward the most interesting phase of the
latest movements. I mean the search for the significance of things, as
of higher and more abiding value than the things themselves.

Fuller’s life was a romance of more than usual human import,
characterized by a singular unity of purpose. He is not to be
considered, on the one hand as a man, and on the other as an artist,
with qualities, as is not unusual, respectively dissimilar and
conflicting. His art was of himself, truly an ingredient, nourished,
disciplined, chastened, always sweetly wholesome, modest and noble, like
his life. He lived the latter well, and in this high ideal of manhood
realized the ideal of his art.



Homer D. Martin has been called the first of American
impressionists--doubtless not with reference to his manner of painting,
but to the way in which he formulated his conception of the landscape.
He was not concerned so much with its obvious phenomena as with the
impression that it aroused in his own imagination.

The distinction is a very general one. Everywhere there are those to
whom the obvious appeals with undisturbed frankness; they have an
instinct for facts, and for confronting them singly and directly;
always, too, there are others to whom the facts are but a basis of
suggestion. A lamppost on the sidewalk implies another one beyond, still
others farther on, and on and on; and, by inference, the endless
footsteps in both directions, passing and repassing.

Martin’s earliest study, as a young man at Albany, was with William
Hart, a literalist of very engaging qualities. Hart was faithful to the
forms of nature, as every true landscapist is, and dwelt upon the
details of the scene with a lingering appreciation that did not,
however, prevent him from coördinating them into a very charming
_ensemble_. But his joy in the latter was of the obvious kind, such as
any intelligent lover of the country shares; a joy in the pleasantness
of generous pastures, dotted with cattle, and pervaded with a quiet
prosperity; in the smiling sunshine and grateful shade, in cosey
woodland retreats, that a man might seek in order to bury himself in the
attractions of a book. Always it was the domestic happiness of the
country side that won him, much, indeed, as it won Daubigny; for such
choice of subject is not a consequence of a painter’s particular way of
painting, but of his temperament. The much or little of suggestion that
he receives from the landscape, the quality of personal feeling that he
puts into his pictures, depend upon his character as a man; and the
loyalty with which he follows his own true bias determines very largely
the value of his work. Certainly this is a truism, and yet how often it
is ignored; painters and amateurs establishing, each for himself, some
particular basis of appreciation.

For example, to look for poetic quality in a landscape picture has
become with many an axiom of standard, and they find its expression
chiefly in the manner of tone. So they have no eyes for one of Monet’s
naturalistic studies; its subtle fidelity to a phase of nature does not
interest them. He has found the truth of nature to be enough for his own
enjoyment, and as he has striven to make nature speak direct through his
picture without any promptings to sentiment on his own part, they miss
the suggestion of some special sentiment such as another painter will
enforce, and find Monet unintelligible; much the same, presumably, as
nature itself would be to them a sealed book. The text to them is
unsuggestive; they need a commentator. And how scarce good commentators
are! The vogue of poetic landscape has called into activity many whose
sentiment is merest sentimentality; minor poets of the brush with a
pretty knack of tone and tenderness that passes for poeticalness. It is
necessary to clear the air of any such mild pretence of poetry before
venturing to speak of Homer Martin as essentially the most poetic of all
American landscape painters.

It has been said that there is a Homeric quality in his landscapes.
Clearly this is no attempt to place him in relation to other painters,
as we regard Homer among other poets; but is a reference to the big
significance of his work, to those elemental qualities which we
habitually associate with the poetry of Homer. The bigness of Martin
was principally that of a big intellect. It had its inner shrine, where
he kept to himself the sacredness of his deepest artistic inspiration;
an outer court, wherein he mingled with other men of intellect, and its
sunny entrance steps, where, beyond the shadow of what was to him most
real, he could prove himself to be “a fellow of infinite jest,” a
brilliant _raconteur_, one that all who knew him loved. And the love for
Martin one finds to have been greatest among those who knew him best,
and were most aware of the deeper qualities that underlay his wit and

There is, indeed, a rare attractiveness in this combination of depth and
brilliant surface. It is so easy to take life seriously or hilariously,
if one is formed that way; but to be big with seriousness in season, and
big with sportiveness betimes, is the quality of an extra large-souled
man. Of a man, indeed; for the quality is essentially a masculine one,
and rare even among men, particularly in art, so large a portion of
which is feminine in significance. I suppose most of us feel this in
comparing, for example, Tennyson with Browning; and, consciously or
unconsciously, have had a feeling of it in the presence of many
pictures, even by acknowledged masters. Not improbably it is the latent
reason of so much indifference toward pictures in this country by
persons otherwise cultivated. Our past history, as well as the immediate
present, has demanded qualities essentially masculine, and so many
people instinctively suspect the superabundance of the feminine in
painting, or have regarded it merely as a pastime on the part of the
painter, and as suitable chiefly for decorating the walls of a
drawing-room. The one class has ignored the claims of painting; the
other committed itself unreservedly to that kind of picture, which is
least of all the product of intellect, or likely to make any demand upon
the intelligence. They have found it difficult to take a painter and his
work seriously, or would be, perhaps, surprised to find that such an
attitude toward art could ever be expected of them. They would find
incomprehensible the suggestion that a man may be found who puts into a
picture as much mind and force of mind as another man puts into the
upbuilding of a great business; that the qualities of mind expended in
each case may be similar in degree, and not altogether different in
kind; power to forecast the issue, and to labour strenuously for it,
with a capacity for organization, for selecting, rejecting, and
coördinating; a gift of distinguishing between essentials and
non-essentials, and of converting sources of weakness into strength, so
that the issue becomes in each case a monument to the intellect of its
creator. And when one finds, as with Martin, that these big qualities of
mind have been directed to the expression of what is grand in nature,
least transitory, most fundamental, one begins to have that respect for
his art which must precede all true appreciation, and to discover that
it has a close relation to what is noble and most endearing in life--a
deep, abiding reality. During his lifetime comparatively few appreciated
the significance of his work, but it is of the kind that time is

A very characteristic example is the “Westchester Hills,” because it is
at once so powerful and so free from any of the small and perfectly
legitimate devices to attract attention; a picture that in its sobriety
of mellow browns and whites (for such, very broadly speaking, is its
colour scheme) makes no bid for popularity; in a gallery might escape
the notice of a careless visitor, and grows upon one’s comprehension
only gradually. In the gathering gloom of twilight we are confronted
with a country road crossed by a thread of water and bounded on the
right by a rough stone wall. The road winds away from us, skirting the
ridge of hill, which slumbers like some vast recumbent beast against the
expanse of fading sky. The dim foreground and shadowed mass


     From the collection of Daniel Guggenheim, Esq.




     From the collection of Louis Marshall, Esq.



are grandly modelled; strength, solidity, and bulk, contrasted with the
tremulous throbbing of the light. This contrast of rude, tawny ground
with the vibration of a white sky recalls a favourite theme of the
French painter Pointelin; but one feels that a comparison of his
pictures with the “Westchester Hills” is all in favour of the latter.
Both painters have felt the solemn loneliness of nature folding her
strength in sleep, the mystery of darkening and of the lingering
spirituality above; but Martin is the grander draughtsman of the two,
suggesting with far more convincingness the solid structure of the
earth. So we are made to realize that the phenomenon is not merely one
that he has noted or that we might note, but one that through countless
ages has manifested itself as part of the order of the universe.

Its significance is elemental. We may attribute this to the better
drawing, or, with far more justice, to the superiority of intellect,
that could embrace this larger conception and find the means to express
it. And in studying the means let us not overlook the essential grandeur
of the colour; not of the brave or passionate kind, but sober with a
concentration of subtle meaning, that discovers infinite expression in
the minutest variations of the homely browns and yellows, which in the
shadow yield nothing but their strength and quietude. And, then, what a
wonder of suggestion in the sky! It is not only lighted, but quivering
with light; an elastic fluid that extends as far as one’s imagination
can travel, in height, and breadth, and depth. These limitless skies are
a characteristic of Martin’s pictures. He does not seem to have been
attracted so much by cloud forms or to have been given, as it were, to
building castles in the air; but his imagination loves to free itself in
the far stretches of ether, the circumambient medium through which the
waves of light travel. His skies are brushed in with firm assurance; it
is a pleasure to peer into the canvas and study the sweep and exultation
of the strokes, and then to step back until distance blends them into a
unity of ranging grandeur. And just as Corot said of himself, that he
was “like a lark pulsing forth its songs amid the gray clouds,” and his
skies have the vibrative quality of violin music, so there is music in
these skies of Martin’s, only it is that of the organ and the diapason
stop. True, the note is not always so full and sonorous; as, for
example, in the “View on the Seine” in the Metropolitan Museum, where
the splendid blue and white have a more silvery resonance, which,
however, is less suggestive of songfulness than of the sweep of music
travelling on and on. Indeed, in all his skies, there is less of local
significance than of the suggestion that the ether is a tidal ocean
connecting the fragment of circumstance with infinity.

This landscape also shows that his imagination was not wedded to the
solemn. It is brisk with the _joie de vivre_, and yet not in a merely
sprightly way. In the line of poplars on the right of the picture, each
spiring up into the sky, there is the sense of springing aspiration.
Again, in that beautiful “Adirondack Scenery,” with its waves of
brilliant foliage rolling between the brow, on which we feel ourselves
standing, and the distant cliffs of mountains, what exuberance of
spiritual joy! Spiritual, indeed, for the picture was painted far away
in the West, indoors, and under the affliction of failing health. But
who would guess it from the picture? Martin had so possessed himself of
the sweetness and majesty of the Adirondacks, that he could give out
from himself, drawing upon the treasures of his memory. It was his swan
song, and how characteristic of the essential nobility of the man, that
it breathes such ample serenity, such a boundless sense of beauty, pure,
spacious, and enduring! He never dwelt upon his troubles, as smaller men
do; and this last picture is a grand assertion of the supremacy of mind
over matter,--a poet’s triumphant proof that his dream of beauty was
strong within him to the last.

Martin’s work, like that of other great men, was uneven in quality. But
if it lacks at times perfect intelligibility of construction or of form,
it was not from want of knowledge or ability to draw, as is abundantly
proved by the superlative excellence of these very qualities in his
finest pictures. He had made countless studies, drawn with the greatest
care, revealing a thorough feeling for and comprehension of form. At
times, he may have found a difficulty in translating his knowledge into
paint. His use of the brush, used as he needed to use it to express what
he had in mind, had been necessarily self-acquired, and often it was
rather the subtlety of the effect he desired to express than any
fractiousness of the brush, which caused him to fumble, though, in the
majority of his work, never sufficiently to distress us or to divert
attention from the message that his picture conveys. For always, in his
best pictures, there is this distinction of a message; not a mere
friendly interchange of views between the painter and his friend, or
simple, easy platitude regarding nature’s beauty, but a deep, strong,
personal assertion of some specific truth of beauty, fundamentally and
enduringly true. It is the sort of message that appeals to the depth


     From the collection of Samuel Untermeyer, Esq.



earnestness in ourselves; and with a comprehensiveness that permits each
of us to draw from it what particularly satisfies himself,--qualities
that are the unfailing distinction of the great works of imagination.

Some of his pictures, in which we shall find these qualities
conspicuous, are “Normandy Church” and “Normandy Farm,” painted during
the years that he lived at Villerville and Honfleur, “The Sun
Worshippers,” “Autumn on the Susquehanna,” “Sand Dunes, Lake Ontario,”
and “Headwaters of the Hudson.” Individual preferences count for very
little; but I cannot resist the pleasure of recording a particular
fondness for the “Normandy Church” and “Sand Dunes.” In the former it
will be remembered how the roof and tower of the church, embrowned with
centuries softened by moss and lichen, stand like an embodiment of
stability against the quiet movement of fleecy clouds that cross the
blue sky, like a token of faith and protection to the little cottage on
the left. It is an idyl of the permanence of hope and consolation in a
simple faith. Then what a full-lunged inspiration of rest and vastness
does one draw from the “Sand Dunes”! It is not the vastness of distance,
for the evening sky is wrapping with greenish gray the sand hillocks,
which are separated from us only by a belt of warm green-brown grass
and a strip of golden-brown scrub. But it is the character of the scene
that is vast in suggestion. We do not feel the sky to be a quilt of
softness, but an abyss of tenderness, assuaging the desolation of the
spot,--a desolation that has the feeling of primeval loneliness.

For, at the risk of repetition, I would dwell once more upon the
elemental quality that characterizes all the best work of Homer Martin.
Not only is his theme elevated and serious, clothed moreover in
pictorial language of corresponding significance, but it shuns the
trivial and transitory and attaches itself to what is basic in nature’s
beauty and perennially true. In his masterpieces there is the evidence
of a great mind, for the time being unreservedly consecrated to great
ends, and expressing itself in an imagery of grandeur and enduring
suggestiveness. To recognize these qualities is to rank him highest of
all the poet-painters of American landscape.



To many a young student, regretfully turning his back on the few bright
years of study in Paris, has come the question, “What must I do to be
saved?” Hoping all things, believing all things of his single
determination to succeed, he feels within him a capacity; but how shall
he apply it? I fancy there are two classes of such aspirants: those who
look around them for suggestion, and those who look within. Among the
latter seems to have belonged George de Forest Brush.

Knowing him in the light of his later work, we may feel it one of the
anomalies of art that his master in Paris should have been Gérôme. Yet
looking back over our own lives, we realize that it was the element of
character, the presence or lack of it in those with whom we came in
close contact, that determined their influence upon us. And this quality
of character was strong in Gérôme,--of all the more value to Brush
because it was of a kind in many respects so dissimilar to his own. He
is something of a rebel,--I use the word in its most respectable
sense--intellectually independent, prone to dissatisfaction with things
as they are, unconventional, perhaps a little impractical and visionary,
as rebels are apt to be,--qualities, all of them, that are facets of
character. Gérôme, however, a conservative, addicted to rote and rule,
with his scholarly devotion to semi-classicalism or, as some more
severely style it, pseudo-classicalism; a cold precisionist, who would
render the death of a Cæsar as accurately and dispassionately as a
surgeon dissects a corpus--such a character would be a wholesome
make-weight to a young romantic mind.

It would emphasize especially the need of knowledge and mastery of
facts, encouraging the formation of a stable basis on which romance, if
it were minded to push its head into the clouds, might at least have
sure foundation for its feet. Certainly, one accomplishment that Brush
brought back from Paris was a feeling for form, and another was a
faculty of seizing upon the reality of things and of keeping close to
facts. No doubt it is as a painter of ideas that he is significant; but
do not let us overlook the point that all his work, especially the
earlier examples, shows an appreciation of the actual. How much of this
he owes to the influence of Gérôme it would be hard to estimate; but
even if this realization of the mental and artistic value of the actual
is an element in his own character, the contact with this master must
have done much to give it fibre. For the sense of actuality is
communicable, while ideas are not only personal to their author, but
inalienable. And how distressingly elusive, tame, and profitless in
pictures are ideas unbased on actuality--the landscape, for example,
that makes for sentiment without support of drawing and construction. In
pictures of the human figure an inspired control of colour may fill us
with enthusiasm, but cannot wholly stifle our regret if the drawing is
inadequate; for the beauty of nature is the beauty of its forms and of
the coloured raiment that clothes the forms without disguising them,
while in the world of spiritual ideas the beauty depends upon their
association with or analogy to the world of matter.

So let us recognize the value of the master’s influence upon Brush.
There was much that he had to unlearn as he pursued his own evolution,
notably the sleek, hard, and dispassionate method of Gérôme’s painting.
But his brush work every painter of distinguished character must acquire
gradually for himself, just as a writer, if he is an honest craftsman,
will discover his own fashion of words, adjusting his method of
expression to what he is trying to express; the main thing, both for
painter and writer, being to have something to say: something which is a
part of the man’s self and convictions. The method will grow to it.

Leaving Gérôme’s studio, Brush, like other students, stood at the
dividing ways. He might have cast his eye around him, noted what seemed
to be the tendencies of the day in art, the “latest style,” as the
fashion-makers call it, and set to work to reproduce in New York the
impressions aroused in Paris. Then, in time, he would have been among
those who excuse their own lack of initiative with the lament that in
our city there is no “art atmosphere.”

In the sense they seem to mean it, the absence is not an unmitigated
evil, for what is this “art atmosphere,” when you search it closely? A
little, perhaps, like Scotland, as characterized by a Scotchman, “The
most beautiful country in the world to live out of.” So it is well to
know there are places where the art atmosphere abounds, that one may
visit for a time with pleasure and profit; yet it is remarkable how the
great painters, the men of force and character, whose minds push them on
continually, live either outside of it or within it behind closed doors.
The smallness inseparable from an art atmosphere, the mutual admiration
and amiable reciprocity of patting of backs, or worse, the “Bully, my
boy!” to his face, and the “How he’s missed it!” behind his back; the
petty rivalries of little cliques that clutter of themselves across a
café table, setting up little standards and gaining brief
conspicuousness by repeating one another’s efforts--this is not the sort
of atmosphere that strong painters need to breathe. They would be
stifled in it. They need, like Delacroix or Puvis de Chavannes, the
ample privacy of their own inner life, or, like the Barbizon men, the
large seclusion of nature. For such an atmosphere a painter of Brush’s
calibre would have no use.

He returned to this country; not to city life, but to the wide freedom
of the western territories, and found inspiration for his imagination
among the Indians. I know nothing of what impelled him; whether it were
a survival of a boy’s enthusiasm for the story of his country, or a
suggestion received from the archæological associations of Gérôme’s
studio, or some happy chance of idea, seized upon and followed out; but
the significant point is that, though fresh from Paris, or, shall we
say? because of it, he found motives that attracted him in America. The
older men had found them too, but many of the younger generation,
returning from Europe, were proclaiming, and many do so still, that the
conditions of America are unfavourable to pictorial motives. May it not
be that the barrenness is in themselves? I am not speaking of the
landscape painters, but the figure men. One of their laments is the lack
of picturesque costumes. This same word “picturesqueness” has been the
bane of painting for two hundred years, implying the necessity of
certain formulated qualities in a landscape or figure, rendering it
suitable for the purposes of a picture. Owing to this obsession, Corot
was fifty years old and had paid three visits to Italy before he, poet
though he was, could feel the suggestion of loveliness in the scenery of
his native country. So one must not be too hard on others who are deaf
to the calling of their environment. But let us give no quarter to
picturesqueness. It is a discredited, discreditable evasion of the
facts. The true painter sees pictures all around him or evokes them from
his imagination; the world of matter or of spirit continually presents
itself to him in pictorial fashion; it is only a journeyman who hunts
for picturesque jobs.

It may be said that possibly it was just this picturesque quality in the
Indians that attracted Brush. I cannot say; but had he penetrated no
further than the unusualness of their costumes and habits, as is the
case with others, so far as I know, who have painted them, there were
nothing to be said. But he has penetrated into the life and thought of
the Indian, and, more than that, has re-created in his pictures
something of the primeval world; its vast isolation, silence, mystery.
He has found in these modern redmen a clue to their past and has created
a series of picture-poems which have the lyric melody of Longfellow’s
“Hiawatha,” an equal individuality and appeal to the imagination and a
greater virility. Let me instance “Silence Broken”--a little glimpse of
river, banked with dense foliage, out of which a goose has burst above
an Indian in his canoe. It is a small picture, representing a contracted
spot, but it needs very little imagination to make one feel that this
fragment of seclusion is part of an immensity of solitariness. The man,
kneeling as he plies the paddle, looks up in no wise startled, but with
a grand composure that seems a part of the elemental suggestion of the
scene. It is a work of powerful imagination, projecting itself upon the
solemn spaciousness and mystery of the past.

Recall, too, another small canvas of big significance, “Mourning her
Brave.” Standing by her dead in the snow, high up on a mountain ledge,
the woman utters her dirge to a leaden sky. What emptiness and
desolation of world without and spirit within! A breath of the ceaseless
mystery of sorrow throbbing out of the void of time! Then a tenderer
feeling pervades “The Sculptor and the King.” Stroke by stroke the
sculptor has compelled the marble to respond to his thought, or wooed
it, for he has a gentle, dreamy face; a youth only dimly conscious of
his desires, and he waits for the king’s verdict, tremulously eager, and
withal so glad in his heart at what his hands have found the skill to
do; a poetic embodiment not only of the primitive man’s yearning after
expression, but of the springtime of every artist’s soul. Then note the
king, standing with folded arms, wrapping his doubt of the desirability
of such things and, yet, his wonder and admiration of them in the
convenient impenetrability of silence. There is a touch of humour in
this figure, as of the critic non-plussed and unwilling to commit
himself, but much more of serious reference to the early dawnings of a
comprehension of the beautiful, as “a thing to be desired to make one

Those Indian subjects are of a high order of imaginative work. They have
a great power of suggestion, stirring directly and forcibly one’s own
imagination; and they are informed with an elevation of thought, a
deeply penetrating earnestness


     From the collection of Miss Henrietta E. Failing.




From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.   Copyright, 1897, by Foster Brothers.



and a largeness of conception that has been able to grasp the big
significances and to feel them in their relation to perennial truth. For
they not only suggest the life and environment of the early redman,
picturing both with a fulness of comprehension that brings them vividly
to our consciousness, but they involve allusions to our own experience.
There are periods of sorrow when the world seems very empty and desolate
to-day; there still are yearnings after higher things, the flutterings
of doubt and hope that precede the beginning of growth of something
better; and still a grandeur in the solitude of nature and maybe in that
of a man’s own communings with himself. We may or may not have
experienced those things, but, at least, we have an intuition of their
possibility; and if a picture can recall the past and show it as part of
the eternal relation of spirit and matter, we are justified in honouring
its author. So these pictures of Brush’s seem to me great,
notwithstanding a certain smallness--I will not call it pettiness--in
their execution. As I recall the “Mourning her Brave,” it has
considerable breadth of method, and, no doubt, others of the Indian
series show increase of manual accomplishment. But the painting in
“Silence Broken,” still influenced by Gérôme’s, is hard and shiny; and
the drawing in “The Sculptor and the King” has a quality of timorous
and laboured exactness. It is not in consequence of style, but despite
it, that they are impressive.

With the artist’s personal development has come maturity of
craftsmanship. His latest series of “Mother and Child” are marked by
fluency of composition both in the lines and masses and in the colour
schemes. But with the ripening of his powers has scarcely followed
increase of individuality. He has freed himself from the hard, evenly
lighted, rather tight character of Gérôme’s manner only to yield himself
to the fascination of the old Italian style. It is a little surprising
that one whose imagination is so individual should have failed to
discover a really personal language of expression. It would seem as if
the lack of facility was beyond his power to remedy, and that, feeling
the need of broadening his method, and conscious that breadth with him
would mean chiefly a larger kind of precision, he had found in the
example of some of the Italian masters just that union of qualities.
Then, too, if he were searching for precedents it is to the dignity and
quietude of the Florentines that such a temperament as his would turn.
And in these later pictures one is conscious of these qualities. They
have an air of noble sweetness, serenity, and high and earnest purpose,
creating, wherever they appear, an atmosphere of their own, pure and
elevating as that of the upper air. Yet, as creative work, I think many
will rank them lower than the promise of his early days. Their motive is
a borrowed one--borrowed with their technique. True, it is one of
beautiful human significance, but its representation, especially to one
who is a husband and a father, makes a comparatively small demand upon
the imaginative faculties. So that, if we feel the evidence of these
faculties in painting to be the rare and superlative thing, the artist’s
persistence upon a somewhat lower plane of endeavour must seem
regretful. It is rather a merging of the artistic prepossession in the

And I wonder whether this may not be the explanation. In early manhood,
while the impulse was from within, he sought the objective for it in the
world outside, characteristically choosing those scenes which would
least interfere with the seclusion of his own mind. In later years he
has found the seclusion in his own home, yielding to the natural
tendency, as the years grow upon one, to feel the world to be less and
less, and those closest to one more and more. And, it must be
remembered, the conditions of the world were never quite to his liking,
while his home is what he has made it and would have it. Yet this,
after all, represents the evolution of a man rather than of the
artist--a yielding to circumstances, inclinations, conveniences, rather
than a following of one’s star.

I write these words with hesitation, as it may be my own fault that I do
not detect in these later works as much evidence of elevated imagination
as in the Indian studies. If so, I would plead in extenuation my
enthusiasm for those earlier pictures.



There is a species of ivy in England--I do not know if it exists in this
country--that grows over old stone walls and towers. It is treelike in
character and size. Probably it was never planted deliberately against
the masonry, but reached its _habitat_ by one of those romances of
nature’s accidents. Finding the support that its young life needed, it
clung and mounted; gradually, however, gaining independent strength
until in the maturity of its growth it has its own boughs, so hardy that
a man may climb by them, and puts forth bunchy masses of leaves and
berries that disguise the original support in a luxuriance of
independent growth.

Such is often the story of an artist’s development, and is that of
Wyant’s. In the small town of Defiance, in Ohio, where he lived, there
was little to suggest to the boy what pictures meant, and yet he had the
picture-making faculty in himself: the observant eye and desire to
translate into line the forms of things. He drew incessantly: the forms
of stones, of banks, and tree roots, their stems and branches, and made
studies of the leaves, separately and minutely, as well as in masses. I
like to think of him as a child lying full length before the kitchen
fire with a bit of burnt wood taken from it, drawing on the floor; and
fancy that in that soft, suggestive medium of charcoal, and on the rough
surface of his improvised panel, he may have got his first dim
consciousness of the meaning of synthesis in landscape; the securing of
character and tone, and the fascination of working in masses rather than
in outline.

When he was old enough to be set to a trade, he was apprenticed to a
harness maker, working in his leisure hours at sign painting. But all
roads lead to Rome, and a youth might derive much skill in form, as well
as breadth of manner, in this humble department of the fine arts.
Somewhere about the fifties he found himself in Cincinnati, even then an
oasis in the desert of western indifference to, or ignorance of, art. It
was here, in a private collection, that he first discovered what painted
pictures were like, and, with a rare instinct for one so young, it was
Inness’s work that captured his imagination. A youth, passionate and
eager as Wyant was, must have his god or goddess; a being infinitely
above him, yet, perhaps, of infinite condescension, who will listen to
his devotion. Some of us may have offered our heart and future to ladies
nearly old enough to be our mothers; Wyant’s divinity was of the other
sex, an Apollo at whose oracle he would inquire. He found the means to
come to New York and lay his sketches before the master, and never
forgot the kindly criticism which bid him be of good courage and

He was now about twenty years old, and nearly ten more years were to
elapse before his own independent growth was to establish itself.
Meanwhile its direction had been assured by the influence of Inness; its
manner of growth was to be partly affected by the Norwegian painter,
Hans Gude, who had graduated from Düsseldorf and was at this time
working in Carlsruhe. He had been the pupil of Achenbach, who, as Muther
says, had “taught him to approach the phenomena of nature boldly and
realistically, and not to be afraid of a rich and soft scale of colour.”
He had felt the influence, also, of Schirmer, whose fondness for the
so-called Italian landscape had guided him to the “acquisition of a
certain large harmony and sense for style in the structure of his
pictures.” Such was Gude, to whom Wyant went for instruction. He spoke
in after years of the kindness with which he had been received as almost
one of the household by the painter and his good frau, and one may
imagine that the student took much profit from the master’s emphasizing
of form and construction, and also from the reposeful dignity, academic
though it was, of his compositions. But when the older man passed from
the teaching of principles to that of methods, and urged his pupil to
imitate his particular manner of presenting the truths, Wyant’s
independence rebelled. He had learned what could properly be taught, and
recognizing that for the rest he must depend upon himself, returned to
New York.

Face to face with the problem of making a living, and hoping to gain
useful experience, he joined a government exploring expedition to the
West. But the party suffered terrible hardships, to which Wyant’s
physique succumbed. He was put upon the train to return East, and might
have stopped at his mother’s home to be nursed and cared for. And much
he needed tending, for he was helpless, stricken with paralysis; but the
mind in his poor body was still active; he argued that to be taken off
at a far western station was to become stranded, to lose all touch with
the painter’s life, on which his determination was still fixed. So he
let himself be carried past his home and reached New York. No words can
add to the pathetic heroism of this decision. But in our admiration of
the delicate poetry which belongs


     From the collection of George A. Hearn, Esq.




     From the collection of Samuel Untermeyer, Esq.



to the work of Wyant that we know best, let us not lose sight of the
force of will-power that was involved in the making of it. “Yes, he had
been in hell!” exclaims Carlyle of Dante; and while suffering may not be
the only road to highest effort, it is one of them, and the man who
passes along it like a man, even if he cannot tread it, but must be
carried, as in Wyant’s case, is very apt to produce something more than
ordinarily appealing to the hearts of other men. While Wyant recovered
the use of his body, though obliged ever after to paint with his left
hand, he was never really free from some bodily discomfort; and I wonder
whether this may not have had some influence upon his notable preference
for depicting nature at the hush and restfulness of twilight. To one
whose days were, more or less, days of weariness, constantly sensible of
the afflictions of the body, with what a benediction the evening would
come, full of spiritual refreshment! Out of the cool cisterns of the
night his spirit would drink repose.

For many years he made his summer home in the Adirondacks; then, fearing
that he was getting too much into a groove in his way of seeing nature,
he transferred his study to the Catskills. The move is characteristic of
his alert sensitiveness to nature’s impressions. His temperament was
like an Æolian harp, delicately attuned to nature’s breath, responsive
to its faintest sigh; but he dreaded lest the melody might become too
uniform, too much a merely passive expression. There was a similar
mingling of purpose and of surrender in his relations with his fellows.
To a few friends, among them always Inness, he gave a welcome, and no
little of his time and means in constant acts of kindness to those who
needed help; but from social or official functions he kept, as far as
possible, clear. He had so much that in his heart he longed to do, had
begun his life’s work comparatively so late, and knew the years left to
do it in were few. It was only by unremitting application that he could
realize his ideal.

This concentration of endeavour affected his ideal, limiting the range
of moods of nature that he strove to represent. Such versatility as
Inness’s and that painter’s alacrity of impression to constantly
differing phases of nature were impossible to his temperament and
circumstances. Drawn by both to isolate himself, he heard in the silence
of his own heart the still small voice of nature, listened for it
always, and strove to woo it. The echo of it is felt, I think, in all
his landscapes. We may recall some of his large woodland pictures, in
which sturdy trees are gripping the rocks with their roots. Strength and
stability and the evidences of time confront us, just as they would in
the forest itself; but like cathedral architecture when music is pulsing
through it, they are for the moment secondary to the spiritual
impression of the voice. Wyant heard it in the movement of the
tree-tops, and in the stir of weeds and ferns that nestled in the
hollows, and it whispered to him of peace, a quiescence that stirs the
soul to gentle activity, gladsome by turns or subdued in the alternate
sun and shadow, that inexhaustible mystery of nature’s peace that
passeth man’s understanding. We have all felt it and know how far it is
from our everyday lives, and we look to word-poets and to poet-painters
to create an illusion of it. Surely no American painter has done this
more irresistibly than Wyant. Nor is there wanting to the peace of his
pictures at times a more solemn suggestion. While so many of his
twilights breathe simply the ineffable loveliness of quiet, others are
astir with persuasion to spiritual reflection, with the gentle
admonition to sadness that itself is purifying, or with deeper, fuller
suggestion of the infinite mystery of nature’s recurring sleep that
swallows up the littleness of man in its immensity. I remember, too, a
little picture of darkened earth and rather turbulent dark sky in which
a large boulder alone glistens in the fading light--a rock of
illumination and strength in the surrounding uncertainty of gathering
night. Brimming over with the suggestion of an elevated melancholy
sustained by faith, and painted with an extraordinary earnestness of
simple and direct conviction, it seems like a symbol of Wyant’s own art

But almost everything that he painted is expressive of some phase, at
least, of himself. His work is more than ordinarily personal; perhaps,
for the reason already mentioned, that he so deliberately concentrated
his motives. And the quality of his poetry was lyrical. I have seen it
called idyllic, but that is to miss its higher and deeper qualities. The
idyl, Tennyson notwithstanding, is too much identified with the little
pastoral poem, that breathes the simple gladsomeness of the meadows; but
a more serious strain is interwoven with the gentleness and lovableness
of Wyant’s muse. He was passionately fond of music and, before his
illness, could play the violin, not learnedly, but with true feeling.
And the music of his painting is that of the violin; tenderly vibrating,
searching home to one’s heart, by turns lightsome, melancholy,
caressing, impetuous, but with a tenderness in all. He did not play on
many colours, but reaches a subtlety of tone, often as bewildering as it
is soothing. The bewilderment will be aroused as much by his shadowed
foregrounds as


     From the collection of George A. Hearn, Esq.



by the faintly luminous sky. They defy analysis and are triumphs of
impressionism. Impressionism of the true kind, I mean, pregnant with
suggestion and divested of aught that would clog its directness;
exhibiting, not knowledge, but the fruit of knowledge, and especially
its tact of omission. To the careless and commonplace eye his landscapes
have “nothing to them”; approached with a little understanding they mean
so much, and the measure of their meaning is the technical knowledge
involved. If there were any doubt of this, it could be disposed of by an
examination of his earlier work, in which he lets one into the secret of
his love of form and construction. Admirably sure and full of character
is the drawing of the ground and its features, bit by bit receiving its
due share of individuality; so also with the trees and their anatomy of
trunk and branches, and with the structure of the sky. Everything has
been studied, so that later out of the abundance of his technical skill
he could be significantly spontaneous. Yet increase of facility did not
lessen the self-exacting conscientiousness of his work. Some of his most
impressionistic pictures were the result of trying to reach a fuller
exactness of expression; when, finding confusion growing, he would seize
another canvas and return to the simplicity of his original thought and
let it form itself. Few painters are better represented in their extant
works. The fumbled canvas, or the one that, however sketchily, did not
attain to his intention, never left the studio, and after his death,
Mrs. Wyant, with a fine regard for his memory and with honour to
herself, destroyed them. So the real Wyants--for I am told there are
sham ones on the market--are invariably worthy.

So truly did he retain the spirit of the student that it was not until a
little before his death that he allowed himself to feel that he had
mastered the grammar of his technique. Then, with the consciousness of
his end before him, he would exclaim, “Had I but five years more in
which to paint, even one year, I think I could do the thing that I long
to.” Brave, modest soul! What he might then have done we shall never
know; but what he did do we know to be very good. For another nature
poet of our race, of like simplicity and singleness of love for nature,
of as choice and elevated a spirit, and as lyrical in expression, we
must go back to Wordsworth, who also in his communings with nature found
her message--

    “Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love, and hope,
     And melancholy fear subdued by faith,
     Of blessed consolations in distress,
     Of moral strength and intellectual power,
     Of joy in widest commonalty spread.”



If we wished to introduce a foreigner to what is most distinctively
American in our painting, we should show him, I think, the work of some
of our marine and landscape painters. He would be least likely in these
to detect the influence of Europe. The point of view he would recognize,
no doubt, as the one common to all nature students since the Dutchmen of
the seventeenth century; but in regard to the technique he could not
attribute its character to the influence of this or the other master
abroad, for our landscape painters, like most other true students of
nature, have found, each for himself, their own necessary and inevitable
language of expression. Necessary because it originated in their own
peculiar need, and inevitable because it grew out of the particular
character of the portion of nature that they studied. And in most cases
it is some phase of the American landscape that has engaged the American
painter, which accounts in no slight degree for the individuality of his

For do we pay enough heed to the essential differences that nature
presents in different localities? At the moment I am not thinking of the
variations in construction, forms, and configuration, as, for example,
between the aspects of mountains and of simple pastoral regions, nor
even of the separateness of impress set upon the landscape by man in the
character of his buildings or of his farming occupations, but of that
more subtle difference produced by varying kinds of atmosphere. The
great landscape painters, we may have noticed, all belong to northern
countries, who have lived, comparatively speaking, within the same
degrees of latitude; and yet the landscapes of Holland, France,
Scotland, England, Norway, and America can never be mistaken for one
another. Apart from local conditions of man’s handiwork, each varies in
the local quality of its atmosphere--its degree of clarity or humidity,
of briskness or caressingness.

In a country vast as ours, there must needs be diversity in different
parts, so there cannot be any one character of landscape distinctively
American; but, in their faithful rendering of the local character, all
may be distinguishable from those of other countries. And this
expression on the countenance of nature is not unlike that on the face
of a man or woman; the painter may suggest it perfunctorily, or he may
render it with a completeness of sympathy and understanding, products of
alert sensibility and interested acquaintanceship. It is the evidence of
these qualities that gives enduring charm to Tryon’s landscapes.

No one who knows his work will need to be told that he is a New
Englander. His landscapes show an intimacy of knowledge of that
locality, and an affectionate sympathy with its particular phases of
expression, that could only result from the painter having grown up in
that part, the boy’s associations gradually maturing into the man’s
convictions. His home was in Hartford, Conn., where he was born in 1849.
He entered upon life as a stationer’s assistant, and pursued the
occupation until he had accumulated sufficient means to visit Paris, all
the while spending his leisure time in studying from nature and in
discovering for himself how to represent his ideas in paint. There is
evidence in this of sanity as well as earnestness, of a fine poise of
character, qualities later to appear in his landscapes.

Above all, there is the perfectly natural process of a painter’s
evolution; I mean, the antecedent love of nature, the clear apprehension
of the kind of nature that he aimed to paint, the love of it and the
knowledge preceding the final acquisition of technique; meanwhile, the
gradual upbuilding of personal character by the discipline of
postponing his ideals. So, when he reached Paris, it was not as a raw,
enthusiastic student whose subsequent career spun suspended upon a mere
cobweb of his fancy. He had married, and took his wife with him,
establishing a little home and having clear plans in view, being, in
fact, a man. He painted under Harpignies and Daubigny, an excellent
combination of influences, mutually complementary: the one so sound and
methodical, if a little prosaic; the other so captivating in the
perennial boyishness of his mind, so lovable a student of the simple
loveliness of rural scenes. What a happy antidote was Daubigny to the
excessive earnestness of a typical New England character; how
persuasively suggestive must his landscapes have been to one whose heart
was implanted in the austerer charms of his New England home. The
influence of his two masters served on the one hand to send the roots of
his growth farther down and to stiffen the trunk, and on the other to
encourage a more abundant leafage and the added fragrance of blossom.
From both, also, he must have gained a store of technical principles;
but of direct influence in his manner of painting there is no trace. His
own special problem was one different from theirs, and he had to find
his own way of solving it.

Even in one of his earliest landscapes painted about 1881, after his
return from Paris, from studies made abroad, there is a decisively
individual note. It is a scene of ploughing, owned by Mr. Montross--a
stretch of dark rich soil, with man and horses pushing the furrow toward
a clear, cool horizon. There is a larger feeling than Daubigny would
have portrayed; a sterner one, if you will, certainly one more bracing
in its suggestion of vigorous earth and breezy sky, and more distinctly
inspired than Harpignies could have made it, with the sentiment of the
soil and sky in their relation to the life of man. Still, the motive of
the picture is so far a borrowed one that, although it has the feeling
of a New England scene, it has not its local characteristics of
atmosphere or of soil colour, lacking the more sensitive quality of the
one, and the tenderer hues of the other. While, then, this picture is
without the subtle qualities that mark the later ones, it has a clear,
strong note of vigorous earnestness, strongly felt and strongly
realized. Indeed, it seems entirely characteristic of the strength of
purpose and sturdy qualities which are the foundation of Tryon’s
equipment, both as a man and a painter. He seems to have grown up with
the smell of the soil in his nostrils as Millet did, though without the
latter’s saddened associations; to have been nourished with the brisk
New England air, and to have gathered muscle over its ploughed and
grassy uplands. The keen stimulus of nature went through and through him
early and has stayed with him, so that his art partakes of its strength.
In his pictures, one finds, I think, a stronger foundation than only
that of good drawing and construction; an earnest, wholesome delight in
the strength of nature as being something in which he himself shares;
which, indeed, has so grown into his mind and life that its expression
in his work is but a matter of course. It is a part of his most serious
convictions, so that his rendering of it is convincing.

Put into words, the distinction may seem a little fine drawn; but I feel
sure that our experience of pictures gives it substance. How often, for
example, in the work of the French classicists we may see illustrations
of human vigour, on which good drawing and construction have been
expended, and yet their suggestion of vigour is only an affectation; a
quality aimed at by the painter, but not vitalized by strong, earnest
convictions of his own. What a protestation of strength there is in
Salvator Rosa’s landscapes, and how little real convincingness! And,
coming to the landscapes of our own time, it would be easy to quote
examples of strong drawing and construction from which,


     From the collection of Charles L. Freer, Esq.




     From the collection of Charles L. Freer, Esq.



however, the spirit of strength is lacking. They are the work of men who
mean strongly, but are not themselves strong men. So surely does
personal character, or lack of it, show in a painter’s work, not the
mere robustiousness of personal force, but the settled, earnest,
habitual convictions that are the elements of character. And quite as
evident to our experience in pictures is the distinction between the
real and the false in refinement. Mere subtlety of brush work, while it
may create for a while an illusion of refinement, will not satisfy us in
the long run.

Many of Tryon’s landscapes reach a pitch of delicate suggestion in the
rendering of soft air, caressing atmosphere, and shrouded light that is
unsurpassed by any painter in this country; for the impression is much
deeper than that of an entrancing skill in the management of the
pigments. The spirit of the landscape stole into his heart when a boy,
and has abided with him in his manhood; he is so much a child of New
England, sweetened by its tenderer influences as well as nurtured on its
hardihood, that, sharing its strength and refinement, he gives
expression to himself when he reproduces these qualities in his
pictures. Hence, in both directions, their complete convincingness. A
fact, too, which helps to justify this appreciation is that his
pictures show an interest in so many moods of the landscape, and the
degree of force or of subtlety with which he renders each is regulated
by the demand of the occasion. You cannot divide the past twenty years
of his productiveness into special periods of style; any attempt to do
so will bring you up against the insurmountable objection of finding
that two canvases of very different feeling and manner of painting are
dated the same year. Development, necessarily, there has been in style;
increased acquisition of facility and the power to render more
penetratingly the mood of nature he is studying. But evolution of motive
you will scarcely find. That from the first has been realistic; in the
sense that the landscape, as it appears to him to be, affords primarily
sufficient incentive to his study.

In the presence of nature he makes studies, intent for the time being
solely on recording what he sees; later, in his New York studio, the
poetic suggestion of these studies will come to him, and he composes a
picture. But the process is from realism to poetry, and not
contrariwise, as one suspects to be the case in the poetical landscapes
of some painters. Tryon’s way is not unlike a man’s regard for a good
mother. In the days of his habitual intercourse with her, it is her
dignity and sweetness that grow into his life, the changes of
expression in her face and voice that win upon his devotion, her
beautiful reasonableness that is accepted as quite a natural thing. It
is only when the son’s life is drawn apart from the habit of her
presence that the sentiment of a mother’s love is realized. So Tryon’s
withdrawals to city life allow the poetry of nature to steal in upon his
imagination; when he resumes his face-to-face communing with it, the
life habit of absorbed regard comes back to him. The result of this is
that the sentiment of his pictures grows out of the actual, and
represents the soul of a fact. One finds one’s self admiring the
extraordinary truth of the visual impression, and then often surprised
that material so homely should yield such abundance of poetic
suggestion; forgetting, for the moment, that poetry is not an element of
nature, but a quality of the painter’s mind, representing the degree of
sincerity and elevation of purpose with which he has approached his
subject. Tryon’s poetry comes of the associations garnered through a
life of affectionate intimacy with the country of his birth. It is as
true and spontaneous as filial love.

His technical skill has secured the respect and admiration of his
fellow-painters. They assign him that final title of approval, “a
painter’s painter;” meaning that only those who know by practical
experience the difficulties and trials of technique can properly
appreciate his ability and resourcefulness, and certainly not implying,
as is sometimes the case when this expression is used, that the
admirable qualities in the picture are primarily and solely technical

Attempting in non-painter language to summarize the spirit of his
method, one may, perhaps, reduce it to the equivalent elements in his
own character--poise and sympathetic penetration. The balanced effect of
his landscapes is very notable: a harmony of colour in which there is no
jar, a similar equipoise in the details introduced, a delicate
adjustment of strength and tenderness and of sentiment to facts; an
_ensemble_ of uninterrupted unity. In the matter of sympathetic
penetration--a rather clumsy expression for which I can find no happy
alternative--his method is even more remarkable. I allude to the
affectionate studiousness with which he analyzes the significant
constituents of the landscape, and to the degree in which his eye
penetrates the secret of the envelope of atmosphere, of that particular
quality of atmosphere characteristic of New England.

I would cite the “Early Spring, New England,” not as an example of one
of his most beautiful landscapes, but as a triumph of technical
resource, to which was awarded the gold medal in 1898 at the Carnegie
exhibition in Pittsburg. The foreground is a pasture with a brook
winding through it, and several leafless trees which spread their
delicate network of branches against a clear, open sky that reddens
slightly near the horizon. Beyond is cultivated land, partly covered
with the brilliant green of young vegetation, and partly red, upturned
soil, with a team ploughing. Farther back are gently rising hills.

The front of the picture is painted with remarkably delicate detail, and
in the distant parts there is a similar suggestion conveyed of the
worthiness of the scene to be minutely studied. There is not a square
inch in the composition that is without individual interest, and yet
this elaborate mosaic unifies into a single impression of spaciousness;
for the relative significance of each plane in the picture has been so
shrewdly realized. The eye is invited to travel back to the remotest
part of the ground and up into the expanse of sky. This is the primary
invitation of the picture as would be that of the actual scene; and then
follows, if you have eyes for it, the beckoning in this and that
direction to the separate interest of the various parts. This accurate
rendering of the effect of intervening atmosphere upon the receding
forms and colours brings the atmosphere itself into the picture; a
softly stealing animation, not yet nimble, but gently quickening into
life. It is, indeed, a picture of quite extraordinary subtlety; and so
much the more a triumph of accomplishment because it is a very large
one, and the mere problem of filling such an extent of canvas with the
evidences of minute observation, so that it should still hold well
together, was a most formidable one. There was no possibility of evasion
or of falling back upon convenient generalizations: the problem, once
grasped, had to be solved to its ultimate conclusion.

Yet the very magnitude of canvas and of problem impairs somewhat the
intimacy of feeling in the picture, and for all its abounding skill we
shall not reckon it among Tryon’s choicest work. In that he gives us,
when he wills, the sense of spaciousness within a much smaller frame,
and, compassing it around so discreetly, makes its subtle appeal by so
much the more insinuating. These comparatively smaller pictures are too
numerous and different in character to allow of detailed allusion, yet
one may single out a few such gems as “The Rising Moon” and “Sunrise,”
owned by Mr. Charles L. Freer; “After Showers--June,” owned by Colonel
Frank J. Hecker; “The Meadow--Evening,” owned by Mr. A. T. Sanders;
“Springtime,” owned by Mr. George


     From the collection of J. J. Albright, Esq.



A. Hearn; and a “Winter Evening” and “Early Spring,” the property of Mr.
N. E. Montross.

These are masterpieces,--and the list is incomplete,--pictures that you
may study from the strictest standpoint of technical excellence, and
that exert an influence upon the imagination which one may believe will
be felt by those who come after us as fully as by ourselves.

In considering American landscapes, there is more than a little tendency
to dwell upon the names of the painters who are dead, regardless of the
fact that the traditions which they established are being maintained.
Among those who are maintaining them, Tryon is conspicuous, and in a way
that is, perhaps, more distinctive than theirs. He represents much more
closely the kind of contribution that the American temperament may be
expected to make to the progress of painting. For unless painting can
continue to reflect the evolution of human progress, it is, after all,
only a “dead language.” But it is landscapes such as Tryon’s that prove
its vitality. They represent the combination of qualities that
differentiate American civilization in its worthiest form from that of
other countries and of past times. They combine a largeness of outlook
with alert sensibility to impressions; being, at once, big in character
and minutely subtle.



Upon his first appearance last year as a contributor to the exhibition
of the British Institute of Water Colours, Horatio Walker’s picture,
“The Potato Pickers,” was prominently hung, and he himself was elected a
member. Considering the fine record of the Institute and its high rank
among water colour societies, such instant recognition of a newcomer was
very notable.

But it is just the way in which an artist of Walker’s calibre is likely
to make his impression--at once and authoritatively; for he is a painter
of unusual personal force, and of a persuasiveness quite as remarkable,
qualities not always found in combination, but, when united,
irresistible. And these artistic qualities are the counterparts of
similar elements in his character as a man. His is a forceful
personality of moral as well as mental force. How much this means! There
is a kind of forceful person who slaps you on the back in the street,
and you probably consider him a nuisance; and there is a kind of painter
who would violently arrest your attention by the bravery of his brush
strokes or some surprising crash of colour scheme or chiaroscuro.

In such forcefulness there is a certain effrontery that one resents at
once; or which, if it arouse a little momentary curiosity or even
interest, will in the long run be followed by intolerable weariness. For
it is almost entirely a mere display of manual gymnastics, an
exploitation of self. There may be a little mind behind it, but it will
be the quality of mind that is simply of the active kind, enamoured of
its own activity. It is not regulated by the moral sense, responsible to
self-control, contributory to some serious and absorbing purpose,
involving a realization of the intense meaningfulness of nature and
life. This is the foundation quality of what is big in life and art: a
noble seriousness that penetrates the facts, and lifts them upon the
elevation of its own spirit to the dignity of what is grandest and most
abiding in the universal scheme.

Painters who possess this faculty are apt to concentrate their sympathy
and force upon some particular phase of life, and Walker has found the
pivot point for his in the island of Orleans, in the St. Lawrence, some
twenty miles northeast of Quebec. Here the descendants of the early
French settlers still retain the simple faith and habits and fine
ingenuousness of the peasants of northern France; a sturdy race, close
to the soil, and drawing dignity as well as nourishment therefrom,
perpetuating their origin even in their belongings: the domestic
utensils, the farm implements, in the racial characteristics of their
clever little horses and oxen, and in the very fashioning of their
harness. Nor was the singling out of this Acadia merely the happy
discovery of a painter in search of the picturesque. It was a harking
back to the associations of his boyhood; for, though Walker’s later
youth was spent in Rochester, N.Y., he is a Canadian by birth, the son
of an English army officer.

It is a beautiful thing for an artist when he can thus graft his
maturity on to the roots of his early impressions.

    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
     And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

How often the will passes, we know not whither, like the wind; and the
thoughts, swallowed up in the materialism of far other thoughts, come
back to us in later life only as random visions of what might have been!
Indeed, it is beautiful for the artist when he can recover that boy’s
will, and link the early thoughts on to the maturer thoughts of manhood.
This way lie sincerity, depth and fulness of conviction, and ripest
fruitfulness. It has been difficult for American artists to maintain
this continuity of evolution, since they have had to travel far for
instruction, and the way of return to the associations of the past has
not seemed clear. Still, many have found it, and perhaps a volume of
criticism might be based upon this one fact; and it might be shown that
those whom we most admire as powerful painters, for the reality of what
they have to say and their impressive way of saying it, are the ones
who, in their art, have got back closest, either to the actual scenes or
to the mental associations of their youth.


    Copyright, 1902, by N.E. Montrose, New York.


By Horatio Walker.]

But besides the quality of force in Walker and his art, there is the
other one of persuasiveness. You may remember his “Oxen Drinking,”--the
two broad-fronted, patient heads side by side at the water trough, their
driver, in blue shirt, standing by them, and the rich brown backs of the
massive beasts showing against the dark-gray horizon. For the sky,
reaching far up above the group, has been whipped into turbulence by the
wind; it is slaty-hued, threatening storm. How grandiose this elemental
fermentation! How significant the bulk and solidity of the beasts! There
is force all through the picture, the force of disturbance and the force
of immobility; for the beasts are grounded like boulders; the man,
motionless. It is a force that compels attention and communicates its
own strength to one’s self; and then succeeds an infinite suggestion of
restfulness. The heavens may labour, but for man and oxen the appointed
task is done, and they enter into their rest. And note that this
suggestion is not arrived at by a process of the intellect, but by pure


    Copyright, 1902, by N.E. Montrose, New York.


By Horatio Walker.]

It is the colour scheme that conveys it; that note of blue, so clear and
flute-like, against the sullen grayness of the sky; the sobering,
complementary note of tawny brown, even the chromatic variations of the
gray sky that vibrate like music. For all its menace, the sky is
beautiful, and in union with the other notes of the scheme produces a
throbbing tenderness of harmony that is irresistibly appealing. It is
through his colour schemes that Walker tempers his force with
persuasiveness. For he is one of that small band to whom colour is as
essential a part of their expression as notes are to the singer. You may
see pictures in which the colour is little more than tints to
differentiate the objects; others in which it is merely an accurate
rendering of the phenomena studied; then others, again, wherein the
colour is as inseparable from the conception as fragrance from the rose.
It is essential, interpenetrating the structure of the picture, complete
and indivisible as the components of a passage in music; structurally,
æsthetically, and intellectually essential. While one will find this
true feeling for colour in all his work, it is only in the later ones,
as one would expect, that it reaches its fullest subtlety of expression.

One of his early pictures is the “Milking,” a large canvas to which was
awarded the gold medal, by the vote of exhibitors, at the exhibition of
the American Art Association in 1887. The scene is a stable interior,
with drab walls, in which a woman in a blue gown is milking a black and
white cow, whose calf is standing near. The light enters by a window on
the right, and percolates through the dim recesses of the stable. At
first one is conscious of the quiet beast standing across the picture,
turning its mild head toward us, and of the woman in half shadow, a
strong-bodied form in the easy attitude of a habitual occupation; but by
degrees the eye penetrates the surrounding gloom, and discovers another
figure and other objects in the background. In this gradual evolving of
the subject, art has followed nature, and one feels also the evidence of
a dignified reserve, as of a man who does not wear his heart upon his
sleeve or admit you hurriedly into the privacy of his thought, but
assures himself first of your sympathy and then bit by bit unfolds to
you his purpose. Another characteristic of this picture is its
grandiose passivity, its suggestion of a liberal acquiescence in
nature’s plan. We shall find this same large outlook, under various
guises, in a great number of Walker’s pictures. Represented most
differently, one meets with it in “Morning,” in which a flock of sheep
have just emerged from a shed and are beginning to nose about the
meadow, which stretches behind them, glistening with dew and bounded by
a coppice of delicately branched trees, through which the morning sky,
just quickening with light, is visible.

Here again is a suggestion of the routine in nature’s scheme: the
awakening of day, the following on of the beasts to play their appointed
part. And I think we shall be conscious also, for this is a later
picture, penetrated with subtlety of manner and meaning, of an
extraordinary suggestion of the remoteness of nature at this silent,
undisturbed hour. It is a repetition of an occurrence as old as any time
we wot of, and it links this modern scene in our imagination with
Virgil’s “Eclogues,” with Homer’s “Odyssey” and the Hebrew Laban’s
flocks, forming a link in the endless chain of pastoral recollection, at
once the most enduring and most lovable of all our impressions of
nature. Nor let us omit to notice the remarkable technical skill
involved in the painting of this stretch of meadow, the exquisite
gradations of tone in the silvered greens as they recede from the eye,
the delicate stir of animation in the grass, and also in the painting of
the sky, which is kept so surely behind the trees, while its gathering
volume of light steals gently through them. So complete is the unity of
the picture, so musical its vibration, that from the whole scene there
seems to exhale a delicate sigh that floats through the fragrant
soundlessness of awakening nature.

Such technical accomplishment is the outcome of Walker’s penetrating
earnestness. Like most of the best landscape painters of every country,
he is entirely self-taught. The appeal of nature, to one who is a true
lover of it, is so personal that no other man’s method will avail to
express what he feels. He is compelled to discover his own way of
utterance, conforming in its individuality to the particular quality of
his sincerity. With Walker the sincerity is characterized not only by a
determination to reach the truth, but by an instinct for the larger
kinds of truth, those which need no enforcing, but make their own
significance slowly and surely recognized. Nothing is more conspicuous
in his best work than the reserve with which everything is stated. He
puts forth his strength with calculated orderliness, gradually letting
one into the heart of his meaning, continually stimulating and rewarding
by further study, and leaving one at last with the consciousness that he
has held back part of what he had in mind. He leads one, indeed, to the
dim border land where one says good-by to facts and yields only to the
imagination. In this respect he is nearer to Israels than to Millet in
his attitude toward peasant life. The peasant of Gruchy was so
profoundly impressed with the pitifulness of the peasant’s life that his
story of labour with all its force is a restricted one. He missed its
nobler aspect in relation to the universal scheme, and feels only its
heavy fatalism. Israels has a wider sympathy, which can discover beauty
in the monotonous routine, the beauty of little observances well and
faithfully done, and the quiet intervals of rest and homely joy that
intervene. But while Walker is akin to the Dutch artist in the embracing
tenderness of his vision, he excels him in breadth and force. Israels
continually invites you to look in; Walker, to look in also, but to look
around as well.

In this respect he reminds one of Troyon, whose magnificent landscapes
and grand cattle are big with nature’s fecundity and strength. There is
not a little of these two men in Walker; of Israels’ tenderness and
Troyon’s breadth. Even in so stirring a subject as the large “Ploughing
in Acadia,” painted about 1887, there is this infusion of tenderness.
The three horses straining abreast are full of vigour; they tug with a
sustained effort in which the continuity of the movement is finely
expressed; the high gear above their saddles, covered with sheepskin,
tosses in the air over their shaggy arched necks; the old man at the
plough tail is stocky and hale; lusty green weeds have their roots in
the strong earth, and the sky is full of bracing weather. Through and
through it is a sturdy picture; but note, also, the affectionateness
with which the head of the nearest horse is rendered. He is of the
Normandy breed, the most willing of servants, the most intelligent of
animal companions. His eye is bright, the nostril inflated; he is
rejoicing in his strength; and later on, when labour is over, he will
nose into his master’s jacket and both will feel like friends to one
another. This is the wholesome, natural view of the peasant’s labour,
when it is really close to the soil and uncorrupted by a cheap press;
man and the animals going about their appointed task until the day is
done, and finding companionship with one another and with nature; and it
is not without a quiet happiness of its own.

This ploughing scene reminds me of a later one, painted a few years ago,
of two oxen coming up the furrow with their massive, leisurely
movement, while behind them the light is mounting up in floods of
crimson, that overflow upon the broad backs of the beasts and lap the
cool, glistening earth. It represents the first moments in nature’s
daily awakening to life and in man’s daily routine of labour. Both in
the sky and on the earth there is the steady gathering of force; not a
burst of energy, but that massing of energy that will not readily expend
itself. I have heard it remarked that the oxen look tired already, and
the men likewise; but perhaps it is rather a passivity of feeling that
is conveyed, that slow, unquestioning resignation, that is at once so
pathetic and heroic in the true peasant.

And in another way many of these canvases of Walker’s involve this
heroic suggestion. While close studies of pastoral and agricultural life
in a portion of this continent to-day, they have a more universal
significance and set one’s imagination back in the Old World that we
call Homeric; times of spaciousness and simplicity, when we fancy that
man’s strength was in closest affinity with nature’s; times of
wholesomeness and poise of mind and body, when man lived by nature’s
rule, and labour was loving.

This universal suggestion is the product of the force, united with
persuasiveness, that one marked at the outset as characteristic of
Walker and his work. It comes of the large seriousness with which he
thinks and works, of the true perspective through which he views his
subject, wherein facts and sentiment take their due place not only in
the foreground, but in their relation to a distant horizon. These
risings and settings of the sun, that he loves so much, have run their
course through ages; not a little of his love for them no doubt is due
to their suggestion of infinity in relation to the life of man; and that
life, too, he prefers to view as itself a heritage of the ages.

For many of us life is now a complicated affair, with much whirring of
human machinery within ourselves and around us; yet it still has
elemental facts and emotions. The painter who can express these with
their personal, local significance, and show, as well, their relation to
the universal, is one whose work will be likely to endure.



“Another King arose which knew not Joseph,” and so it goes still. Most
American children are familiar with the so-called “Athenæum Portrait of
George Washington,” yet probably very few, even of their parents, know
the name of the artist, Gilbert Stuart. We have got into the habit of
dating the growth of modern American painting from 1875, and with some
reasonableness, for that was the period at which students began to
arrive home from Munich and Paris in sufficient numbers to make their
arrival felt. Yet twenty-five years earlier, about the time that George
Inness was starting for Europe, William M. Hunt had returned, bringing
with him pictures of the Barbizon painters and introducing their
principles of nature study. We are apt to dismiss the painting of the
previous half-century as representing only the draggled ends of the
English influence rudely severed by the Revolution; forgetting that the
period is linked on to the Augustan age of English painting, to
Reynolds, Gainsborough, and the somewhat later Constable. For Gilbert
Stuart was a contemporary of all three, and to some extent a rival of
Reynolds, even in London, and was born also within the lifetime of the
first of the great Englishmen, William Hogarth. Stuart, moreover, was
not a follower of others, but a distinct and forceful individuality that
played a leading rôle in the stirring drama of his times. He was, with
little doubt, the first of American masters of painting.

There is a romance in every life, however gray and level, but in
Stuart’s the romance foamed upon the surface. Perhaps he had inherited
it; for his father, a native of Perth, in Scotland, reached this country
shortly after the battle of Culloden Moor, that shattered the prospects
of the Pretender; and there is more than a suspicion that his espousal
of a lost cause had made it well to put the ocean between himself and
his past. However that may be, he built himself a little mill with a
gambrel roof, at the head of the Petaquamscott Pond, in Narragansett
county, R.I., and settled down to the quiet occupation of grinding
snuff. He had married, and in 1755, after several other children, came a
boy, who received the name of his father, and was duly entered in the
baptismal registry as “son of the snuff grinder.” But in time the mill
proved unprofitable, and the family migrated to Newport, where the
mother superintended the boy’s education, the Rev. Mr. Bissert
instructing him in Latin. He seems to have been quick at learning but
averse to study, being of a frolicsome disposition and addicted also to
drawing. None remains of Stuart’s early sketches, but one day some of
them were seen by Dr. William Hunter, as he was paying a professional
visit to the family. The kind and discriminating physician invited the
boy to call upon him, and when he came presented to him a box of paints
and brushes,--a day of days in the child’s life, to be marked with red,
and to be looked back upon in the after years with thanksgiving.

What a pretty picture it presents of those brave old colonial days, when
simplicity and culture went hand in hand. It is very sad, of course,
that the poor boy should have lived too early to enjoy the blessings of
a school system, based on the strictest principles of pedagogy, graded
to an average not inconveniently high, making much of words and
relegating ideas to the proper limbo of things that are unpractical and,
therefore, useless. How pathetic, too, the unique event of this paintbox
in view of the profusion of presents which our children now enjoy!
Truly, there is much room for complacent congratulation over improved
conditions. Yet it is a little disconcerting to notice how much the less
favoured children made of their meagre opportunities; and we may begin
to wonder whether education--the leading of the child step by step to a
fuller and fuller consciousness of the realities of life--and
instruction--the laying of brick upon brick to build an edifice of
character--may not be a thing outside of systems, and to be looked for
rather in the daily contact of the child’s expanding personality with
good wholesome personalities around it. Perhaps, after all, the quiet
spaciousness of those old colonial days was a fine nursery for men, just
as the western forests nurtured Lincoln and many a quiet home to-day is
fostering the goodness and greatness of the future.

Stuart’s earliest picture is said to be a portrait of Mr. Thomas R.
Hunter, of Newport, and we read that when he was thirteen years old he
received a commission to paint portraits of Mr. and Mrs. John Bannister.
Two years later a Scotch painter, Cosmo Alexander, arrived in Newport
and interested himself in the boy’s efforts, giving him instruction, and
when he returned to Scotland two years afterward, taking him with him.
One notes how readily the boy ingratiated himself into the hearts of
those with whom he came in contact, a trait that marks each stage of
his subsequent career. He had a quiet, self-contained demeanour, with a
store of spirit that could flash out enthusiastically upon occasion and
in a very tactful way; with humour, too, and satire as he grew older,
and with a growing brusqueness and even intolerance, toward his later
life. The urbanity, discreetness, and humour he would have inherited
from his Scotch father, drawing from his Welsh ancestry on the mother’s
side the ardour of his character and his love of music. For his
education had included the practice of music--he could play the organ
and was skilful on other instruments. He must have been, indeed, a
personality of rare graciousness.

The stay in Scotland was short, for Alexander died very soon after their
arrival. He had established his ward in the University of Glasgow, and,
dying, committed him to the care of Sir George Chambers, who himself
died shortly after. The youth pined for home, and managed to get passage
back to America on a collier. With a friend named Waterhouse he hired a
model to study from, “a strong-muscled blacksmith.” It was
characteristic of the bent of choice that reappears in his mature work:
a love of strength and resolution, delighting in the robust physical
qualities or in the strong evidences of mental and moral character which
time has impressed upon the face.

In 1775 he again set out for Great Britain, and this time reached
London. It was not until he had suffered much privation that he summoned
up courage to call upon his countryman, Benjamin West. The great man was
entertaining friends and not disposed to be interrupted; but the
gentleman who left the party to interview the caller, found him to be a
connection of friends of his in Philadelphia, and ushered him into the
assemblage. The young man’s demeanour pleased West, who invited him to
bring his work for inspection, admitted him as a pupil, and in 1777
installed him in his own household. By this time, besides painting under
West, with Trumbull among his fellow-students, he was attending the
discourses of Sir Joshua and studying anatomy in Dr. Cruikshank’s
classes at the Academy. His sojourn in West’s studio extended over eight
years, although during that time he was engaged on some independent
work; the Duke of Northumberland, for example, sending for him to Sion
House, on the Thames, to paint two portraits. From being the pupil he
became the assistant of his master, until the painter Dance advised him
to set up a studio of his own, which, with West’s approbation, he did in

His success was immediate; people of wit and fashion thronged his rooms;
he “tasked himself to six sitters a day,” then flung his work aside and
devoted himself to society, living in great splendour and spending
freely. During this period he painted Louis XVI, George III, and the
Prince of Wales, subsequently George IV; while among his other sitters
were John Kemble, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Benjamin West. He had married
Charlotte Coates, daughter of Dr. Coates of Berkshire, and with her
moved, in 1788, to Dublin, where he painted many eminent people and was
welcomed in society for his personal gifts. But he was eager to paint
George Washington.

It is memorable that Stuart, when once his position was assured,
indulged himself in the privilege of refusing many sitters.
Notwithstanding his enormous expenses and the embarrassments to which
they frequently led, he kept his artistic conscience intact from the
smudge of mere money-making, and confined himself to those sitters who
appealed to his particular temperament and afforded him the best
opportunity of making a good picture. So he was willing to throw up all
the golden opportunities which Europe presented, that he might have the
privilege and satisfaction of painting the one man whose heroic
qualities had most fascinated his imagination.

He reached New York in 1792, and two years later proceeded to
Philadelphia, where Congress was in session. Establishing his studio on
the southeast corner of Fifth and Chestnut streets, he painted three
portraits of Washington from life. The first, which showed the right
side of the face, was destroyed by the artist as not being satisfactory,
and only three, or perhaps four, copies are known to exist. Then
followed the full-length portrait, painted for Lord Lansdowne, which
shows the left side of the face and is now in London. The third, against
Washington’s own desire, was executed at the earnest solicitation of his
wife and was left intentionally unfinished. This picture, which shows
the _left_ side of the face, was purchased from Stuart’s widow and
presented to the Boston Athenæum. Known as the “Athenæum” head, it now
hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and over fifty copies of it by
Stuart’s hands have been traced.

Unlike Charles Willson Peale, who made, in all, fourteen portraits from
life of Washington, and painted him in the prime of his vigour, Stuart
depicts the late autumn of his life, when the fruitage of his activity
had been gathered in; a face on which the lines of character are
softened; the energy of expression mellowed; a face chastened by
responsibilities; infinitely sweet and with a tender melancholy of
exalted seriousness. It is the face of one who has conquered himself as
well as others; it has the yearning solicitude of a father for his
children; it represents him as indeed the Father of his people. The
painter Leslie is quoted as having said that it was fortunate that an
artist existed in the time of Washington who could hand him down to
posterity looking like a gentleman; and, while the remark seems at first
sound a trifle flippant, there is much in it, after all. For it is
indeed the gentle qualities, those evidences in word and deed of high
breeding and elevated mind, the prevailing graciousness and lofty
seriousness of the true gentleman,--that _rara avis_ among the
indiscriminate flock of so-called gentlemen--that must have been
preëminently distinguishable in Washington. One feels that, I think, so
sensibly in visiting Mount Vernon to-day.

Set upon that fine bluff overlooking the Potomac, it has the dignity of
elevation; a certain aloofness above the level, self-centred within its
own appanage of outbuildings, gardens and grounds, and yet such a modest
dignity, suggesting the sweet amenities, the little graces and quiet
refinement of cultured country life. Certainly it is the most completely
interesting memorial home of a great man anywhere to be seen, inasmuch
as it is pervaded by the flavour of the old times and by the spirit of
its former occupant. And the whole association of the place is of the
choicest kind of gentle living. Assuredly it was a good thing that there
should be an artist of the period who could record these qualities.

Stuart brought to the task a keenly comprehending mind, and a large
experience in the acquaintanceship with men of affairs, of wit and
learning, and brilliant, varied accomplishments. Himself a man of
brilliant parts, he had ceased to be dazzled by brilliance; could look
at the individual example of manhood that he was studying in its own
separate perspective; could take in the complexities of his character
and give a complete, instead of a fragmentary, record. Neither in his
whirl of success, we may believe, had he lost touch entirely with the
gentle associations that surrounded his early life. There was much in
the riot of those times to hurt a sensitive susceptibility, and Stuart
so often refused a sitter, or threw up a commission partly executed,
that it is not unreasonable to assume that such acts were due in some
measure, at least, to a certain preciosity in his own feelings.
Certainly no other man of his time could have presented this fine side
of Washington. West would have given a grandiloquent rendering of the
hero; if not bombastic, probably theatrical; whereas it is the reticence
of Stuart’s portraits that is so admirable. “I copy the works of God,”
he said, “and leave clothes to tailors and mantua makers.” Without
admitting the general desirableness of such a painter theory, we may
acknowledge its value when tested on such a subject as Washington. We
are glad to be free of the curtains and columns and all the other stock
paraphernalia of the painter of the period, and to be left in
uninterrupted possession of the man and nothing but the man.

Such reserve on Stuart’s part is the measure of his ranking as an
artist. He worked, as he said himself, to express sentiment, grace, and
character. In Washington he found all three; with many of his sitters he
was less fortunate. Consequently, he is not a painter of great pictures,
but of some great portraits. Yet the limitation is in a way an evidence
of greatness. It was the fashion of his time to try and paint great
pictures. From this he had the hardihood to separate himself, reaching
with a true originality of feeling after what really interested him, the
big essentials in the subjects that he studied. Thus he put himself in
line with the great painters, shaking himself free of the fads and
nostrums of his time, and betaking himself straight to nature. In the
story of American art he holds a unique and dignified position.

[Illustration: colophon]


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