A Glimpse of Contemporary Art in Europe
IT is the custom to speak of this as a prosaic, matter-of-fact age, entirely devoted to material pursuits, and with no perception of the value of æsthetic enjoyments. The fact, however, seems to be, that never in the history of the world have governments or individuals done so much to promote art as they are doing now. In no previous century have the people at large taken such an interest in this subject ; and one of the most striking features of social progress at the present time is the popularization of art. Our every-day experience proves this in a remarkable manner. There might have been seen last summer, at the Bethnal Green Exhibition at London, — one of the choicest that was ever opened,— beggars and people in rags. Music and the drama can be enjoyed only by the payment of admission money ; but the best paintings and statues, and the finest examples of art applied to manufactures, are freely shown in Europe to all comers without fee or reward. Photography, lithography, and wood-engraving enable us for small sums to have in our houses copies of the best works, which give us satisfactory notions of the originals in all respects but that of color, and even this we may understand to some extent from chromo-lithography. We have autotypes of the drawings of the old masters which, for all practical purposes, are as good as the identical chalk marks of Buonarotti or Andrea del Sarto. We have photographs which enable us to sit by our firesides and measure the details of the Milan Cathedral in a more satisfactory way than if we were in the piazza before it, and to study the majestic grace of the Venus de Milo almost as thoroughly as if we were in the gallery of the Louvre. No sooner is the Royal Academy Exhibition opened in London, or the Salon in Paris, than we find in the illustrated papers woodcuts of the prominent works, giving us a fair idea of their composition and general effect. The modern Raphael does not paint for Leo the Tenth and the virtuosi of his court alone. He paints for mankind in general, and is to be criticised on all the continents.
The extraordinary encouragement which is given by European governments of the present day to the arts of design is shown by the establishment of schools of drawing for children and working people. This has taken place chiefly in manufacturing countries where skill in art has become of importance in adding to commercial values. It is not probable that the increased æsthetic enjoyment or even the greater refinement of the people entered to any considerable extent into the views of the statesmen who proposed these measures ; but such results will not the less follow from what has been done.
Some attention had for many years been paid by governments on the Continent to this subject, even in Spain and Italy where the disturbed condition of public affairs might well have excused the authorities for neglecting a department the cultivation of which had given them so much glory in the past ; and even in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, where art is an element which does not enter to any important degree into manufacturing industry. In Germany, drawing was always taught in the common schools, and in Switzerland and Belgium it is made a part of the elementary instruction of the children. In France it was chiefly in Paris that art education for children and workmen was carried to a considerable degree of excellence ; but as late as 1846 the city granted only thirty thousand francs for this purpose. The great modern movement for the popularization of art made an immense change. In 1867 more than three hundred thousand francs were appropriated for instruction in drawing in the Parisian schools ; and in the next year, 1868, the number of pupils had increased to ten thousand.
It is in England, however, that the most extraordinary advance has taken place in the art education of the people. This is almost entirely owing to the lessons taught by the International Exhibition at London in 1851. It was distinctly seen at that time that France and other continental countries exhibited a great superiority in all productions which required skill in the arrangement of forms and colors, and that England would lose her supremacy as a manufacturing nation unless she should also cultivate this element of productive value. In 1852 a department of the government was formed to meet this exigency. Many new schools were established entirely devoted to instruction in design, and a plan was also adopted by which the elements of drawing should be taught in the parochial schools. Evening classes were opened to adults, which were not only substantially free to all who were unable to pay for their tuition, but workmen were encouraged to attend by prizes of drawing instruments, books, and money.
These efforts were successful to an extraordinary degree. From a Parliamentary Report, dated in June, 1871,and containing an account of the operations of the previous year, it appears that the number of individuals instructed in art in all parts of the United Kingdom, under the supervision of this department, had increased to 187,916, In 1851 the number had been only 3,296. It is an interesting fact that in a country where it is commonly supposed that the people are addicted to sordid traffic and coarse pleasures, nearly two hundred thousand children and workmen are every year instructed in the elements of design, and more than one thousand of these in the higher and more difficult branches.
But it was found necessary, not only to educate pupils in the principles of art, but also to show them what had been the best results of genius and skill in that direction. Small appropriations were made at first for this purpose. These specimens were gradually increased in number, until they were removed, in 1857, to the Museum at South Kensington, which is now the most complete and interesting of any in the world in its illustrations of the history, the theory, and the practice, not only of decorative art, but also of art in some of its higher manifestations. It is unnecessary to describe to those who have been in London the wonderful attractions of this great collection, or the convenience and elegance of its installation ; the superb hall of the cartoons of Raphael, with its appropriate sobriety of ornament; the long suite of galleries where so many of the most beautiful examples of the English school are hung ; the rooms appropriated to the ceramic art, with ceilings and columns decorated with porcelain ; or the immense glazed courts enriched with gilding and mosaics, and filled with the best specimens to illustrate the value which art can give to raw materials. Many of these objects are costly originals. Others are copies in electrotype or by some other process, and are quite as valuable as originals for purposes of study. A system is devised for the constant increase of the collection by contributions both from home and abroad. The British foreign consuls are required to facilitate the acquisition of interesting objects in their neighborhoods. There was on exhibition last year a set of drawings of full size copied from the wall paintings in the Catacombs of Rome ; and in one of the new halls, not yet opened to the public, there was the plaster model of Trajan’s column of the exact size of the original, the room being of such unusual dimensions that this cast required to be divided into two sections only. Besides works which are the property of the institution, a great number of other objects of inestimable value are constantly lent for exhibition. Of these there will be occasion to speak hereafter. And these collections are not stationary in London. A certain selection from them is kept in circulation through the provincial towns. The report of 1871 states that, during the previous year, oil-paintings, drawings, and other art objects to the number of 9,125 were sent to thirty-two different localities as loans to exhibitions chiefly held in connection with schools of art. There is also a National Art library belonging to the South Kensington establishment, which contained in 1870 upwards of 33,000 volumes ; and courses of lectures are delivered there, the attendance at which amounted the same year to 27,761. Finally, to conclude these statistics, the number of visitors to the Museum during the year 1870 was 1,014,849, and the whole number from the beginning 10,071,667.
The result of this undertaking on the part of the British government has been a substantial success. The French themselves, the most powerful rivals of the English, have repeatedly admitted this in an unqualified way. In pottery and porcelain, in glass, in calicoes and carpets, in silver-ware and jewelry, and in many other branches where skill in art is an element of value, the English are nearly, if not quite, equal to their continental competitors, and this is almost entirely owing to the extraordinary efforts which the government and people have made since the year 1851 to encourage art instruction.
Another proof of the revival of a wide-spread public interest in the fine arts is the increased generosity of governments and individuals in the enlargement and improvement of museums, galleries, and academies. Without repeating statistics on this head which are familiar to all who have travelled abroad, it is sufficient to mention a fact, which is not generally known, that many of these establishments which we are accustomed to consider of great antiquity are comparatively modern. At the beginning of the present century, the only one that rivalled the Louvre was the gallery at Dresden. At that date neither the Museum of the Vatican nor the Studii at Naples, neither the Academy of the Fine Arts at Venice, the Royal Museum of Madrid, the Pinakothek at Munich, the GemäldeSammlung at Berlin, nor the National Gallery at London, existed. And the great collections of the Pitti Palace at Florence, of the Belvedere at Vienna, of the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, of the Hague,and of Hampton Court, were only the private cabinets of sovereigns.
To all these public museums governments are constantly making the most valuable additions. It is unnecessary to enumerate them here, but it would be ungrateful to omit the contributions to the Louvre during the reign of the late Emperor, particularly that of the unrivalled Campana vases. There are constant appropriations also for certain departments which are less conspicuous, such as are not often seen by travellers, and about which the public have only very vague ideas. How few people know, for instance, that in the national collection of engravings in Paris there are 1,200,000 pieces arranged in 14,500 volumes and 4,000 portfolios! It is quite easy to turn over in an hour of two at the British Museum several volumes of the works of Albert Dürer, Marc Antonio, Rembrandt, and Lucas Van Leyden, which are worth collectively at least fifty or sixty thousand pounds sterling. One of these specimens, a copy of the celebrated Hundred Guilder print of Rembrandt, cost its former owner more than six thousand dollars in gold ; and it was stated by the superintendent that the collections in this department of the British Museum alone were worth from five to six hundred thousand pounds sterling, — from two to three millions of dollars !
The rapid growth of the British National Gallery from thirty-eight pictures in 1823 to more than eight hundred at the present time is a strong proof of the point already made, — that art is more substantially promoted now than it ever was before ; and its example is very encouraging to us who are attempting to establish museums in this country. Its history from the beginning is a record of enlightened liberality on the part both of the government and individuals, and this has been shown with particular clearness during the last two years. When the collection of Sir Robert Peel was to be sold in 1871, and was first offered, according to the provisions of his will, to the British government, it was at once purchased for the National Gallery for three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in gold. It consisted of only about seventy-five pictures, but these would bring at the present market rates considerably more than the price above mentioned. The famous Chapeau de Paille of Rubens would alone bring a good part of the whole amount.
In one of the rooms of the National Gallery there is a painting measuring less than eighteen by twenty-three inches,—so small that one might easily put it under one’s coat and carry it off without being detected. It is by the Dutch master, Terburg, and it represents the Congress of Munster, at which the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. It contains nearly ninety portraits of the deputies, some of them full lengths, but all the heads finished with the delicacy of miniatures, and, at the same time, with a strength of character and expression which remind one of Vandyck. The late Marquis of Hertford paid $ 36,400 in gold for this little picture at the first sale of Prince Demidoff’s San Donato collection in 1868. It is stated that the British government was the rival bidder of the Marquis ; and, on the death of the latter, his relative and legatee, Sir Richard Wallace, gracefully presented it to the nation, stating that he knew it to have been the Marquis’s intention to do so, if he had lived.
The extraordinary generosity which has been displayed of late years by individuals all over Europe in gifts and legacies of valuable objects to public collections — in the free exhibition of their private galleries, and in the most liberal and unexampled prices paid for works of art — is in England again most enlightened and conspicuous. The immunity of that nation from foreign invasion, the long peace which has lasted with a few trifling interruptions for more than fifty years, and, above all, the enormous increase of wealth in private hands have enabled the amateurs of that country to amass greater treasures of this sort than exist anywhere else in the world. Not only of specimens in painting and sculpture, but of that multitude of small objects in which the value of a precious material is enhanced by the still more precious skill of the artist, there are vast accumulations in those stately country houses which are the charm and the pride of English life. And these exquisite things are not kept imprisoned in secluded chambers, like the beauties of a harem, to be seen by nobody but their owners. They are displayed for the free inspection of all lovers of art, and are frequently sent also to the South Kensington Museum, where they remain for many months to be viewed gratis by the poorest workman or apprentice. There might have been seen, for instance, in 1870, in those galleries, besides the Sheepshanks and Vernon collections and the sketches by Turner which had been bequeathed to the government, the fine old pictures of Lord Elcho, and the best works belonging to the Marquis of Westminster, including Gainsborough’s famous Blue Boy and Reynolds’s Siddons. It may be mentioned, also, as a proof of the extent and variety of the objects on view at South Kensington at that time, that they included an exhibition of more than five hundred fans, most of them lent for the purpose by the Queen, the Empress of France, and other distinguished ladies. These fans came from all nations, and some of them were hundreds of years old. Several of them had interesting historical associations. Three or four had belonged to Marie Antoinette, one to Queen Anne, one had been mentioned in Madame de Sévigné’s letters, one had been presented by Prince Charles Edward to an ancestor of the present owner. Many of them were exquisite works of art. One was designed by Agostino Caracci, another by LeBrun, another by Philippe de Champagne, another by Lancret, another by Fragonard, and others by French artists of distinction, such as Roqueplan, Lami, Hedouin, and Gavarni. It would be tedious to enumerate the extraordinary private collections which have been lent within a few years to swell the artistic wealth accumulated at South Kensington, — unique specimens of Majolica, Capo di Monte, Palissy ware, Dresden, Sêvres, and other varieties dear to collectors ; jewelry remarkable for historical associations, for the intrinsic worth of the gems, like Lady Dudley’s diamonds, or for its quaintness and rarity, like the peasant ornaments contributed by Mrs. Morrison ; singular carvings in ivory and the precious metals; strange assemblages of ancient miniatures, snuffboxes, and bonbonnières ; costly displays of laces and church embroideries ; curious specimens of silver plate, of glass, of saddlery, of arms and armor, of musical instruments ; in short, of all that apparatus of public and social life which is shaped or decorated by the hands of art.
Perhaps the most striking example that can be offered of the profuse liberality with which Englishmen buy works of art, as well as the generosity with which they display them to the public, is the collection of the late Lord Hertford, which consists of paintings, porcelain, bronzes, decorative furniture, and other objects, and which was lately shown by his legatee, Sir Richard Wallace, at the Bethnal Green branch of the South Kensington Museum free on three days of the week, and for the payment of sixpence on the other three days. Bethnal Green is an outlying district in the eastern part of London, inhabited generally by very poor people. A gentleman who is employed by the government as an expert in such matters stated to the writer that the market value of the Hertford collection was not less than two millions of pounds sterling, — ten millions of dollars in gold.
The prices which have been paid for pictures of late years in Europe are surprising beyond all calculation, and it is well to enumerate some of them, as they have an important bearing upon any discussion relating to the condition and prospects of contemporary art. The enormous sum paid for the Terburg at the first San Donato sale has already been mentioned. Twenty-three pictures were disposed of at that auction in 1868. Of these the next in price to the Terburg was a little Cuyp which went for $ 28,000, and then a Van Ostade for $22,400. The whole twenty-three brought a total of $271,990, averaging nearly $ 12,000 each. In February, 1870, there was a much larger sale of works from San Donato, at which some of the prices were equally extraordinary. The highest priced picture on this occasion was the Broken Eggs by Greuze, which sold for $ 25,200 ; then Delaroche’s Lady Jane Grey and Ary Scheffer’s Francesca di Rimini for $ 22,000 and $ 20,000 respectively. At the Paturle sale in Paris in February of last year, a picture by Leopold Robert was knocked down at $ 16,000; and at the Pereire sale in March, 1872, a landscape by Hobbema at about the same price. But the most extravagant rates of modern times, considering the large number of works sold, were paid at the auction of the collection of Mr. Joseph Glllott of Birmingham, in April and May of last year. A landscape by Turner, called Walton Bridge, painted in 1857, and measuring three feet one inch by four feet one inch, brought $26,250 in gold ; and a water-color by the same artist, called Bamborough Castle, and measuring only twenty inches by twenty-eight,— a small bit of paper which might be utterly destroyed in five minutes by a single spark of fire or a few drops of water, — brought $ 16,535 ; that is to say, nearly thirty dollars for every square inch of its surface, — a larger increase of value, perhaps, than was ever given by art to any cheap material. The total proceeds of this sale amounted to $822,505 in gold !
These prices were all paid for the works of artists who are no longer living. Equally enormous sums are paid every day for the productions of painters upon whose reputations Death has not yet set his seal. A small Spanish subject by Madrazo was sold in London, in May, 1872, for $6,000; and the works of Villegas, another Spanish artist living in Rome, command nearly the same prices. A single figure of a Girl Feeding Geese, by Knaus, on a canvas thirty inches high, brought about seven thousand dollars. Many artists who are not known in this country, such as Baudry, Cabat, Cogniet, Bonnat, and Gleyre now sell their works at excessively high rates ; and Millet, who will be mentioned presently, parted with a little picture of his, called L' Angelus du Soir, for $ 8,000. The works of Pettenkofen, a Hungarian living at Vienna, bring as much by the square inch as Meissonier’s. Gambart paid Holman Hunt for the picture and copyright of Christ in the Temple more than twenty-five thousand dollars. A Gerome was sold about a year since to Mr. Fox of Manchester for $ 16,000, and now it would bring $ 20.000. This artist’s last work, An Arab Embracing his Dying Horse in the Desert, is held at $ 8,000 Fortuny’s Spanish Marriage brought, in 1869, $14,000; an American gentleman had previously offered $ 13,000 for it. Two other works by the same artist lately brought, one of them $6,000 and the other $8,000, and both were purchased by Americans. Finally, Meissonier got from Sir Richard Wallace $40,000 for the Cavalry Charge; and news has lately been received here of the sale by him of a picture representing An Artist Decorating a Sign, for $ 20,000 !
WE have now taken a rapid survey of the attitude of the outside European world towards contemporary art. It seems that, during no former period, have governments or individuals given to it such hearty encouragement by establishing art schools, by enlarging and improving museums, and by paying the most liberal, if not extravagant, prices for art productions.
It remains now to explain, so far as such a vast subject can be treated within the limits of this paper, how art itself has thriven under this unusual stimulus, and whether artists generally are justifying the. extraordinary encouragement they are either directly or indirectly receiving.
It will be convenient, in criticising their productions, to divide them into two classes : first, such as belong to the interior life of the people, and form a part of the apparatus of ordinary enjoyments and pursuits ; and, secondly, such as relate to public life and to men’s actions as Christians and citizens. The first may be called, for want of a better name, domestic art, and the other monumental art.
In the department of “ domestic art,” contemporary works appear to possess certain marked characteristics. They exhibit, in the first place, great general excellence in mere technical qualities. They also show a want of elevation and moral tone in the subjects selected. They indicate, furthermore, conspicuous success in genre, landscape, and marine painting, and, finally, decided failure in portraiture.
The great International Exposition of 1867 at Paris was the last occasion when there was a fair exhibition of the “ domestic art ” of the whole world, and it seems to have illustrated the truth of the statement which has just been made. The first impression that a visitor received, in making the tour of that brilliant circle of pictures, the crowning grace of those concentric rings of glittering and resplendent objects which formed the Exposition of 1867, was the ability displayed everywhere in correctness of drawing, in well-balanced composition, in dexterity of handling, and in pleasing although not striking arrangements of color. This conspicuous skill in mere brush-work is chiefly owing to the complete training which European artists of the present day receive, the patient labor by which a pupil prepares himself to undertake important pictures. He studies his alphabet and his grammar before he attempts to compose an epic poem.
But this technical excellence which is so general, and in some instances almost startling, is very different from the excellence which proceeds from great genius. This may be illustrated by the pictures of Gerome. Here is a painter of extraordinary ability. Nothing can be finer than the way in which he paints the outsides of the things he sees. And he paints them, not only as they appear to the naked eye at the ordinary distance at which we view such objects, but with all the minute detail brought out by an opera-glass. There were fourteen of his pictures at the Exposition, planted side by side on the line, “in battery,” as it were, and their effect was irresistible. But, after all, was it anything more than the outsides of his subjects that he painted ? There is a wonderful painter of surface appearances in Paris, M. Blaise Desgoffe, and a private gallery in New York possesses a copy by him in paint of an ivory statuette, with agate cups and all kinds of rich, shining objects about it, which, to all intents and purposes, are as good as the real things. Mechanical art can go no further than this exact imitation. Now, some French critic has compared Gerome’s work to Desgoffe’s, and said that it was perfect in its representation of outside shows, but nothing more ; that his Phryne, for instance, standing nude before the judges whom she is to overcome by her beauty, is a simulacrum only, an image with all the lights and the shadows, all the lines and the contours, in perfection, but without the warm life glowing below, without the consciousness of triumph swelling up from her heart and illuminating her countenance.
A comparison between Rembrandt’s way of painting a man or a woman, and Gerome’s, shows the difference between extraordinary genius and extraordinary talent. And it is fair to make this comparison, although the great Dutchman generally treated such subjects “ in large,” while the Frenchman treats them “ in small.” But the same principles of art apply in both cases. Rembrandt appears to work from within outwards, while Gerome paints the clothing and then tries to put the man inside of it. Rembrandt seems to take the soul—the living principle — first and fasten it on the canvas, and then paint over it the integuments palpitating and glowing with the vitality within. Perhaps this is transcendental and extravagant, but it is difficult in any other way to express the idea. Take the portrait of The Burgomaster Six at Amsterdam, — that magnificent figure in the artist’s latest manner. The red coat with its goldlace seems to have gotten its folds and creases from the strain and pressure of the stalwart body beneath it. The hands are mere daubs and smears of paint, but, at a proper distance, you recognize the indications of the bony framework below, and then over that the ruddy, elastic muscles and the delicate blue of the veins faintly gleaming through the translucent skin, and, outside of all, the hairy epidermis shining where it is touched by the light. Here are hands which grasp and which have the warmth and moisture of life.
It was said just now, in speaking of the general effect of the pictures in the Exposition, that in point of color they were pleasing, but not striking. Power of color is indeed an exceptional thing. It seems to be a natural gift, and to be possessed by very few. It was undervalued by the old French school. Ingres, who inherited the traditions of that school, said, “ Le dessin, c’est tout: c’est Part tout entier”; in other words, that the line should be the dominant element in the production of a picture. There were three great colorists who might have been represented at the Exposition, but who were not. Delacroix and Decamps were indeed dead, the one in 1863 and the other in 1860 ; but their works might have been shown as well as those of Hippolyte Flandrin, and Troyon, and Bellangé, who also were no longer living; and Diaz, the third of the trio, was still alive and producing beautiful pictures. Delacroix shows how far splendor of color may atone for grave faults. Is it presumptuous treason to say that his drawing is sometimes weak and incorrect ? However, when we look at that lovely, vapory color which characterizes his work in the plafond of the Gallery of Apollo at the Louvre, we are ready to Forget all his imperfections, and to pronounce it the finest decoration of the sort since Paolo Veronese painted the ceilings of the Ducal Palace.
In the Bethnal Green collection there were more than thirty of Decamps’s works, some in water-color, in which he has fixed the light and glow of Oriental life with a power of form and an exuberant vitality which give him a rank among the best of modern artists. And Diaz’s ideal subjects, — peeps into the fairy world,—with their contrasts so pronounced and yet so exquisitely beautiful, and a certain magic of color peculiar to himself, would have given a sparkling animation to the walls of the Exposition, which were somewhat monotonous, so far as the quality which we are discussing is concerned.
It has been mentioned as another characteristic of many contemporary pictures, that their subjects are tame and commonplace, if not frivolous and indecent. This also was apparent in the galleries of the Exposition. There were some exceptions to this remark which will be stated presently ; but it was generally true, particularly of the French artists. One would not have art always preaching sermons, but it should sometimes remind us of the grand aspirations and the grave realities of life. While contemporary literature was doing so much to stir the heart and enliven the fancy, while George Sand was investing French peasantlife with romantic interest, and Hugo and About and Augier and Sardou were attacking social follies and political abuses with extraordinary verve and point in novels and essays and plays, the best of the French artists were giving us mere studies of color and effect, or microscopic imitations of unimportant details, or, what was worse, lascivious images and suggestions.
It was a curious experience to go from the Champ de Mars to the exhibition of the works of the famous Ingres, who had died at the beginning of the year, and whose pictures were shown in a separate gallery, at the École des Beaux-Arts. What grave and noble thoughts, what elevated sentiments, were there ! Even La Source, one of the most exquisite representations of the nude which modern art has produced, seemed clad in divine chastity.
The presiding goddess of the French section of the Exposition was the reclining Venus of Cabanel, barely touching the waves from which she had just emerged, with the moisture of the sea shining on her pearly shoulders, and the tender, silvery light of the old mythology enveloping her like an atmosphere, while above her, floating airily in the deep blue sky, was a garland of Loves as exquisite in rosy color and infantile grace as Fragonard ever painted. Here was the divinity of the Exposition, and the divinity, it would seem, of all Paris. In the glitter of the Bois it was the flaunting landau of an English courtesan which attracted more attention than the superb equipage of the Emperor. At the Théâtre of the Palais Royal they were playing Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, with its witty indecency; at the Châtelet they were exhibiting the gorgeous nudities of Cendrillon ; while at the more grave and decorous Gymnase, Les Idées de Madame Aubray of the younger Dumas was teaching the lesson that, no matter how serious the fault a woman may have committed, and no matter whether she had repented of it or not, she had only to fall honestly in love to be restored to the forgiveness and the privileges of society !
But there was a curious contrast to all this. While Cabanel was painting his Venus and the portrait of the Emperor, and was receiving all the honors and decorations of court life, there was living in Paris an impracticable old artist with republican tendencies, Thomas Couture, who could not be seduced by Imperial favors. He had sent nothing to the Exposition, but many years before he had painted the last great French work in the grand style, Les Remains de la Décadence, which any one might see at the Luxembourg. It represents a philosopher and a poet of the better times watching with sad and thoughtful eyes an orgie where Vitellius and the golden youth of Rome are rioting in the arms of harlots. There was a prophetic touch in this picture, although it had been painted twenty years before; and it seemed as if the veteran artist was speaking through it, to the great Emperor who was then holding this carnival at Paris, the Horatian words,
There were but few religious pictures at the Exposition, and most of those could only be called religious because their subjects were taken from the Bible. The largest of all was Dubufe’s Prodigal Son, the grouping in which reminded one of a ballet. The figurantes had never been nearer to the Holy Land than the Rue de Breda. Its motive seemed to have been to show the pleasures of riotous living, rather than the sovereign grace of forgiveness. Cabanel’s Adam and Eve was painted because it afforded a fine study for flesh. The Devil was introduced, but he was only a bad Frenchman. It was curious to think how differently old Orcagna, who really believed in a Devil, would have treated him. In Jalabert’s Christ walking on the Waves, which is familiar to us here from the engraving, it was the striking effect of the distant figure enveloped in a supernatural atmosphere which was the reason for painting it. Since the Exposition, two works upon religious subjects, by Gerome and Doré, have attracted some attention. The first was the Calvary, in which the scene of the Crucifixion is indicated only by the shadows of the crosses thrown over the foreground, the masses of people hurrying away from the spot, and the lurid light of the sky. This again is melodrama, and not true art. Dorés picture, Christ at the Prætorium, was exhibited in London last summer. It was impressive, as are all this master’s works ; but the interest was in the general effect, and not in the main figure. It represented a vast hall crowded with Roman soldiers, priests, Jews, and proselytes, all hushed into solemn silence, and crowding back on each side to leave a broad aisle through their midst, along which Christ in white clothing, alone and unattended, having been condemned to death, was slowly passing. Doré is a great master of the grotesque, of the supernatural, and of what has been called in literature “the night-side of nature” ; but neither in this work nor in the Bible illustrations does he give a satisfactory rendering of the head of the Saviour. There are few things in modern art which in this respect are superior to Holman Hunt’s pictures.
Ifthe Exposition was meagre in religious art, it was not much richer in historical works. There were plenty of military pictures by Yvon, Pils, and Bellangé ; but what can be more dreary than those terrific combats where the plucky little fellows in the red trousers always get the advantage of the clumsy big ones in blue ? A large work by Ussi of Italy seemed to have earned for its author one of the eight grand medals, but this was probably bestowed rather for reasons of state. Two great canvases by Rosales, a Spaniard, and Flavitsky, a Russian, had decided merit, but these scarcely come within the category of domestic art, which we are now considering. The Death of Cæsar, by Piloty, who is at the head of the Academy of Munich, attracted considerable attention. It seemed to be well drawn and commonplace ; while the same subject, treated by Gerome, in spite of a certain affectation and of the faults in his style which have already been mentioned, was more original, and gave us a livelier idea of the horror of the scene.
The best of all the historical works at the Exposition were the contributions of Baron Leys of Belgium. It is a great misfortune that this master is no longer living. With him art was a matter of conscience, not a trade. He knew that an artist had higher work to do than to tickle the fancy or stimulate the sensuality of his spectators. He thought not so much of picture-making as of placing, by means of pictures, the real scenes before our eyes. His figures were somewhat “inlaid,” and there was, perhaps, a want of the gradations of distance in his out-of-door subjects; but there was something so honest and strong in his expression of character, and so simple and clear in his way of telling a story, that he captivated us much more than if he had sought for “telling” effects. Most of his subjects were drawn from the history of Flanders in the sixteenth century. A very impressive one represented the interior of Luther’s home at Wittenberg. The great reformer was seated at a table with a few friends, while a woman, his wife, perhaps, was sewing quietly in the large bay-window at the side, through which the daylight was streaming upon this reverend assembly. These figures had not been tormented into taking their places to suit the artist’s composition. He seemed to have found them there already,— seated quietly in that peaceful interior, full of God’s clear daylight and of the grand thoughts that were to go out from thence and change the whole moral world.
We reserve for another paper what we have to say in relation to the contemporary European schools of genre, of landscape, of portraiture, and of monumental art.
W. J. Hoppin.