Art

BOSTON.

THE Boston Art Club has recently given an exhibition of landscapes by the late Mr. Richard H. Fuller. There were eighty-seven paintings, a few being among his first attempts, and the greater part apparently his recent works ; and there was a wide difference between the earlier and later pictures, indicating that a part of his artistic labor was unrepresented. It was, nevertheless, an exhibition which could not fail to call fresh attention to some very exquisite qualities in the pictures themselves, and to the gradual development of a man of no common talent in the art which he loved.

The predominant quality of Fuller’s talent, expressed in a word, is refinement. This quality is apparent, not only in the various parts of any picture, but in its harmonious whole. It is refinement of color and of composition; refinement of simplicity and breadth, not of complexity and details. Indeed, the simplicity of his composition is something remarkable. A stretch of flat country, a clump or two of trees, a suggestion of far distance, a quiet pool of water in the foreground, and a sky of marvellous color and remarkably luminous power, are the few and simple materials from which a large part of his compositions are constructed. Of the eighty-seven pictures above mentioned, exactly forty are made on this plan. There was not a mountain in the whole eighty-seven, and but one picture with a small hill in the distance. There was one “dose study ” of trees, and it was among the least pleasing of the whole. This simple material was evidently gathered from what he saw in the flat and marshy country in the vicinity of his home at Chelsea, and the neighboring places of Melrose, Malden, and Saugus. It was not, probably, because he had no feeling for mountain scenery that he did not paint it, but because he did not live within its influence. Otherwise he would probably have painted it as well as he renders level country, for a prominent feature in his genius is his impressibility. He was impressible rather than creative, though thoroughly original ; for originality, as Washington Allston says, is “ individualizing the universal ; in other words, the impregnating of some general truth with the individual mind.”

Fuller’s impressibility is evident not only in his rendering of nature, but in his study of the works of other painters. When thoroughly impressed by a picture, he would paint another similar to it in plan and sentiment, but so transfused by his own individuality that his transcripts as a whole are not copies, but similar melodies played in another key and with variations of his own. There were several proofs of this, showing the influence of the study of his friend Morviller, and of Lambinet, Rousseau, Corot, Troyon, Inness, and others. It was his method of educating himself, though not peculiar to him of course. In all education, one learns not only by studying a thing for himself, but by studying how others have studied it. Fuller looks at the men he imitates not merely as models, but as rivals. He follows his guides by travelling in the same general road, not by trying to tread precisely in their footprints. His aim in the study of other painters is in the right method, not of copying trifling details, but of mastering the principles on which they worked. By trying to see Nature through their eyes, he was aiming to see her better through his own. By studying all whom he liked so far as his limited opportunities allowed, he avoided the danger, arising from the study of one master only, of becoming what Leonardo da Vinci calls “ the nephew rather than the child of nature.”

The facts in nature which he paints are those of relations and contrasts rather than of details and specific characteristics. The principle on which he works is that of the interpretation of general effects, and not of realistic imitation of individual objects. He looks at masses — their outline, their relative magnitudes and harmonious relations to other masses, at the grouping of general forms as balanced by other general forms, at colors as contrasting or harmonizing with other colors — more than at careful details of single peculiarities. Nice touches of foliage or herbage, texture, Pre-Raphaelite accuracy of drawing, local color or reflected lights, are things indifferent to him. In the general composition of his pictures you feel, if you do not directly observe, how admirable is his sense of color, of proportion, of balance, and of harmony of line. You could not move, for instance, a group of his trees even very slightly without producing a discord. As in speech one suits the sound to the sense, the action to the word, so Fuller suited the form to the color, the color to the composition. He is a synthetic rather than an analytic painter. He looked at nature more with the eyes of a poet than of a scientific man. He was particularly sensitive to the values of contrast: for example, he was very fond of bringing a clump of trees in a picture sharp against a sky glowing with light.

The beholder is struck at once with the peculiar beauty of color and light in his skies. Their unusual brilliancy is probably more striking because in them most of the light in his pictures is collected. He was not fond of reflected lights nor chiaro-oscuro. By his method of subduing the gamut of his color, and of his light and shade in the other parts of a picture, the brilliancy of its sky is greatly enhanced.

There are some very notable peculiarities in his tree-painting. There is a neglect in the modelling of specific forms ; and a prevalent brownness where one might rightfully demand a prevalent greenness. These peculiarities seem a violation of commonsense. An artist’s defence of such practice is probably something like this. Trees seen in nature relieved against a brilliant sky lose in a great measure their details of form, the outline excepted ; because there are less reflections to begin with ; and because the greater light in the sky beyond has a tendency to kill whatever reflections there may be. There is less specific modelling of forms than under most other circumstances. The chief thing to be secured in this effect is the ratio between the brightness in the sky and the darkness in the trees. Details of form are not wanted in a picture, except in the outline, because not seen in nature. In this respect — the omission of details—Fuller follows nature to be sure ; but he omits too much to be satisfactory to most observers. Then again, he paints general trees. You cannot tell whether you are looking at a clump of oaks, elms, maples, or what not. Nature never leaves you in doubt about this, while Fuller often does ; and the result with the beholder is a feeling of “ vague unrest.” Effects and relationships are his first care of course, but he might have given more form and more specific character to his masses of trees, we think, without injury to either effects or relationships.

In the brownness of his trees he is unquestionably conventional. He was probably more intent on giving the contrast between the lightness of the sky and the darkness of the trees brought up against it, than on giving green trees merely. In bestowing his chief attention upon general contrasts and relations, he gave less attention to specific characteristics. Probably, too, as he is a colorist in low tones and deep quiet color, he allows his evident delight in warm browns, — considered simply as agreeable color, and not as the correct local color, —and the harmonious contrast with the sky, to make him careless of the single fact that trees are generally greener than he generally paints them. Every truth cannot be given in any one picture. In his conventionally brown trees, he neglects a truth which is patent to all, that he may emphasize another truth which is agreeable to himself. Another might perhaps paint trees more specifically natural, so far as mere local color is concerned, than Fuller does ; but in doing so he might not preserve so well the relation between the tone of the trees and the tone of the sky beyond them, or of the foreground in front of them. Fuller neglects local color and modelling of form to play with pleasant color and general relationships. What he enjoys in nature, he admirably renders m art; what he does not care for, he quietly ignores. In general, the things in nature which he neglects in art are the minute ones ; those which he expresses, the large ones. That he could paint a tree specifically true in color, form, and motion, he occasionally proved. There was an elmtree in this exhibition as good in all respects as one could wish. Neat little touches of foliage he did not care for, as we have said. But all that makes the life of the tree — its form, its balance, its grace, its spring—he could give most exquisitely. Yet we still think he might have painted trees more specifically correct.

Fuller was not a learned artist, — we mean artistically learned in the facts of nature. His range of subjects and his stock of artistic ideas were limited ; and the effects which he painted, though uncommon, are few in number. In fact, he paints substantially but one effect, that of dark against light. He never directly introduces the sun into his pictures, we believe, and its position is never supposed to be behind the spectator ; but the landscape lies between the spectator and the sun, the latter being out of view either on the right or left. This position of the sun gives few reflected lights. The main light is always in the sky, and there is little elsewhere, unless, it is sky light reflected from his favorite pool of water in foregrounds. He is always logically correct in keeping reflected lights subordinate to the direct light of the sun. He never would make a foreground object, a sheep, for example, vastly more brilliant than he makes sunlight, as is the case with some American painters. This sameness in subject and lack of variety in treatment become monotonous when many of his pictures are brought together.

But this exhibition showed the increasing refinement in his perceptions of the delicate harmonies of nature, and a receptivity and originality full of great promise for the future. So far as he goes he is most pleasing. What he tried to do he did well, and this is meant as high praise.

His limitations arose in a great measure from his want of opportunity for study. He had to support himself and family by the hard labor of a night-watchman, thus reducing his vitality; he suffered from a chronic disease ; and he died a premature death. It is evident he had not reached the period of his artistic maturity. He followed his instincts and natural preferences with persistent honesty, but was not betrayed into a neglect of careful study. He was neither one-sided nor many-sided : he was single-minded. In all his work he shows that he was not content with the position in art which he had already attained, but was striving for one still higher._ Unquestionably he would have reached it.

NEW YORK.

AT Goupil’s gallery is to be seen Jean Leon Gérome’s remarkable picture, “After the Crucifixion.”

The spectator is supposed to he looking from Calvary across over a wide landscape. The lower half of the canvas is in light, graded into half-light. In the right-hand corner stretch out the shadows of the three crosses, that of the central cross and the figure upon it the most conspicuous. These ghostly shadows lie partially defined upon the yellowish-white sand and stones. The landscape is dreary and sinister, as the theme demands Midway in the distance stand weird-looking olive-trees. Beyond, the shades deepen, till they shroud the city of Jerusalem in gloom. A procession of figures, on foot and on horses, has just left the hill of Calvary and is winding along the rocky road down the valley toward the city gate. Two or three of the centurions look back at the crosses, whose long shadows alone we see, and lift their arms toward them as in derision. The chiefs and priests ride on with heads averted, or looking downward. Jerusalem, with its walls and gardens and Temple, stands as in the shadow of an eclipse, through which on one side of the sky hangs the red crescent of the moon ; and on the other a mass of faintly rosy cumulous clouds loom up on the horizon, blurred by the fringes of the sad and supernatural twilight.

The suggestiveness of the treatment, as contrasted with the old way in which the crucifixion itself, in all its unmitigated terror and agony was placed before us, is especially noticeable here ; and this, combined with the realism of the landscape, and the receding figures, place this work emphatically in a modern school of art. All that we see of the divine tragedy is the shadow of a terror behind us, and before us the judges and executioners winding their way back to Jerusalem, looking as though the event were nothing extraordinary, and quite unconcerned as to the city itself, though it stands wrapped in its sad mantle of mourning and as if shuddering at its coming doom.

We miss somewhat the broad treatment of color which in the hands of some other artist might combine landscape and figures more harmoniously. We are obliged to look closely to get the meaning and expression of the figures. But we feel that there is a unity of conception throughout, that make it in the highest degree impressive.