WE have on this occasion no art topic of the first importance to touch upon, but we may, without going out of our way, make a note of the pleasure given us by a few pictures lately exhibited by Messrs. Doll and Richards. Three small works by Mr. Hamilton Wilde seem to us to deserve some grateful mention, though indeed one wonders whether forbearance in this case would not be the part of true discretion. Mr. Wilde’s pictures appeal to a taste not largely diffused, and to speak of them in public is almost to exaggerate their claims. They have moreover a decidedly amateurish quality, and present themselves as things which you are perfectly and comfortably free to like or to dislike. We have liked them, however; not only for their literal merit, but for the general artistic temper they represent. Mr. Wilde’s temperament as a painter is the simplest in the world ; he is a colorist and nothing more, and he deals only with what he supposes to be positive beauty. Beauty, to his taste, means chiefly color, and color means chiefly brilliancy; and he combines and composes his splendid hues and vivid contrasts with a really enviable good conscience. His pictures are not imaginative, to our perception, any more than they are realistic; their intellectual simplicity is extreme, and they express little more than a wholesome satisfaction in pure color and a desire to let it speak for itself. Just this temperament is rare, and its felicity should, in a proper measure, be recognized. Most of us are afraid of scarlet and orange ; they inspire us with an instinctive mistrust; they seem to us either crude or overripe, we hardly know which ; and we set them down at one time as barbarous and at another as immoral. Mr.
Wilde asks them no questions ; he enjoys them as the natural man and paints them as the cultivated one. He seems at first to lavish them rather recklessly, but one soon discovers that there is a method in his madness, and that we hit the mark not in proscribing them, but in understanding them. We confess that there might be a certain startled feeling in living in a world in which color was pitched according to Mr. Wilde’s gamut, and that nature on his canvas is too apt to look as if she were dressed out for a gala day and carried a hand-glass in her pocket; hut this tendency is a wholesome corrective to the shyness and sheepishness of coloring which is now so largely the fashion among landscapists, and, excess for excess, we certainly have the greater kindness for that which takes Mr. Wilde’s direction. Such a picture as the painty, muddy Karl Daubigny which we observed near by does a vast deal towards justifying Mr. Wilde’s pursuit of gem-like hues. The pictures we allude to are three reminiscences of a recent visit to the Nile. The largest represents an old carpet-merchant in one of the bazars at Cairo, sitting at the receipt of custom in his door-way, with his gorgeous rugs suspended around him. It has a striking depth and vigor of tone, and the carpets are most appreciatively painted. Much of the coloring here is in heavy darks, which have a great deal of richness and yet of variety. But Mr. Wilde goes too far in his neglect of the rendering of texture. This is apparently deliberate and part of his programme, and to some extent one’s uncertainty about the nature of his surfaces is lost in one’s relish of frank, bold color. In the small view of Assouan, however, this uncertainty becomes really uncomfortable. The picture has a charming glow, but without being either a geologist, a botanist, or an architect, the most casual observer finds himself perplexingly interested in the material of the earth, the trees, and the houses. All these are a trifle too exclusively pictorial. The best of these three pictures is a sketch of a village close upon the river (where its image is exactly repeated), composed of square mud houses compacted into a mass that looks like a huge, queer citadel, and glowing in the reflection of the sunset. The deep, still flush of an Egyptian evening is very delicately rendered. We have also had the pleasure of seeing a number of the artist’s sketches and studies of Nile scenery. Several of these are extremely charming, and evidently just hit the mark of some admirably subtle effect of light and color. We have little wonder at painters delighting in the Nile voyage, for it must be not only a boundless entertainment but an admirable school. It offers an infinite range of the most delicate effects, and to have mastered these faithfully is to have taken one’s degree as an observer. The phases of the scenery, the moods of the day, the physiognomy of the different hours, have each, for the artist, a different message and lesson; and one must suppose that it is a vastly pleasurable thing to know that combination of idle physical delight in climate and in navigation (as the dragoman manages it), and of exquisite intellectual tension. Mr. Wilde’s studies are worthy mementos of the most refined landscape in the world.
We should like to add a friendly word for a small picture by Boughton, also on exhibition at Messrs. Doll and Richards’s. The work of Mr. Boughton, who has taken up his abode in England, is rarely seen in this country ; hut such occasional specimens of it as we have observed have a great deal of charm. It is a rather attenuated, tearful, invalidish sort of grace, and the artist’s figure-pieces always look to us as if some very clever woman had painted them ; but it is very pure in quality. The picture in question is a small American winter scene : the falling dusk on the edge of a wood, with the pale, smothered gleam of the sunset vaguely touching the thin snow, and a couple of figures picking up twigs. It is in its way quite exquisite, and it revived potently a constant taste of ours for all the lurking harmonies of the winter landscape. The painter who feels and renders the pearly grays of the snow-charged sky and the confusion of desolation along the line where the naked, rusty tree-tops rise against it, the brown, damp depths of leafless woods, and the shuddering chill of the slanting light as it lies down, at length, on the snow, does something which tests the finer edge of his faculty. Mr. Boughton has done it very happily; both his fancy and his touch have great refinement.
At the same establishment we observed a large, vigorous landscape by Mr. J. Appleton Brown : a small stream, bordered by thin woods, under a heavily clouded autumn sky. The study was made, we believe, near Newburyport; but the painter is rather open to the imputation of believing that Newburyport is in the pleasant land of France. Mr. Brown has an eye on French models, and in this he is quite right; but we feel like preaching that the French landscape school which thirty years ago was, thanks to circumstances, almost worth following with one’s eyes closed, should now be followed candle in band, as it were, and counting one’s steps. At first it was admirably natural, but its naturalism lias gradually become more and more conventional. A touch of the academic in such painting as Mr. Brown’s would have an agreeably reassuring effect. Muddy streams, rusty trees, and homely verity sometimes strike us as rather savorless diet, and we almost pray for a turn of the tide in favor of old-fashioned composition and selection. This is a remark we should of course trust ourselves to make only to a truly discreet painter. Mr. Appleton Brown’s picture is very frank and manly, and his wind-ruffled white sky, with its stripes of pure, cold blue, is excellent.
We should like to touch, lastly, upon a work of a different order, also lately to be seen at Messrs. Doll and Richards’s : a portrait in water-colors of a lady, by Mrs. W. J. Stillman. This will certainly have been found by careful observers a truly interesting performance, and it has given us a great deal of pure pleasure, though indeed the pleasure is of a sort which it is hard to refer to definite sources. The picture represents a lady (the artist herself, we believe) leaning on the parapet of a balcony, with one arm lying along the stone work, and the left hand holding up, near her cheek, a half-opened fan. She is extremely beautiful; she is dressed in a picturesque robe of sombre red, cut low and square upon the bosom, and behind her are seen a few green branches from a plant in a tub.
The picture contains no bright color and no variety of color beyond the red of the dress, the subdued blue and yellow of the fan, and the few green leaves of the plant. The interest resides partly in the peculiar beauty of the model, and partly, chiefly even, in the remarkable, the almost touching, good faith of the work. The type of face and the treatment suggest the English pre-Raphaelite school, but in so far as the artist is a pre-Raphaelite, she is evidently a sincere and, as we may say, a natural one. There is a vast amount of work in the picture, little of which is easy and some of which is even awkward, but its patience, its refinement, its deep pictorial sentiment, give the whole production a singular intensity. The hair is charmingly painted, in the minutely realistic way, and the general tone of the picture is very grave and soft. We have seen things of late which had more skill and cleverness, but we have seen nothing which, for reasons of its own, has been more pleasing. There is something in Mrs. Stillman’s picture which makes a certain sort of skill seem rather inexpensive, and renders cleverness vulgar; an aroma, a hidden significance, a loveliness.
— Attentive people will have found the apotheosis of cleverness of the vulgar order in a small picture by Egusquiza lately visible at Messrs. Williams and Everett’s. The painter is, we believe, one of the shining lights of that youthful Franco-Spanish school which has produced several brilliant masters, and recognized its chief in the consummately clever Fortuny, whose premature death we regret to see recorded as we write; but if M.Egusquiza is a trustworthy witness, it is running its course with unprecedented speed, and is destined to perish of its own reckless unwisdom. This picture is to be judged not as a work of art, but as a work of morals — which every work of art is, willy-nilly, in some degree. It represents a woman in a light blue satin dress, of a marvelous fashion, leaning against a piano and smelling a rose in a jar. The dress is prodigiously well painted, and the tapestries on the wall behind have corresponding chic ; the whole picture has that would-be Japanese air which, for good or for ill, one encounters nowadays in every quarter But the thing is a most extraordinary piece of artistic depravity, and we confess that we were provincial enough to
feel painfully shocked by it; we had really not comprehended that such things were being done — such a game being played. It would be too good-natured on our part to attempt to say wherein the depravity of such a picture consists: the artist knows better than any one can tell him, and he measured it to a hair’s breadth when he laid on that cadaverous blue glazing of his heroine’s triumphantly ugly visage. It is a work before which one makes one’s reflections. We felt tempted to do a little private philosophizing à la Taine. What has the artist been through, to come to that; and having come to that, what will he go to next ? The sooner he takes the next step the better ; the reductio ad absurdum will leave nothing to be desired. Such a work testifies, on the part of the producer, to a complete, particular set of circumstances— to a moral and intellectual (to say nothing of a physical) environment which Paris and Madrid combined, although it may somewhat tax their resources, are doubtless competent to provide. But we smiled, at the same time that we trembled, to think that Boston was apparently expected to furnish the circumstances implied on the part of the possible purchaser. Poor possible purchaser ! Will he be, after all, so knowing as he thinks he is ? Where will he hang his prize, what will he give it for company, and how will he adapt social conversation to the physiognomy of an apartment so decorated ?
— M. Viollet le Due’s name is familiar to many persons who have not read his hooks, and his books are known to all readers of architectural literature; but we have not hitherto met with any English translations of them, notwithstanding that they are perhaps the most valuable works contributed to that literature in our day. The Story of a House,1 of which Messrs. J. R. Osgood & Co. have just issued a translation, is a lighter work than we have seen before from him; it is said to have been written during a vacation tour in Switzerland, — we do not know with what authority. It represents an enterprising boy of sixteen, who, interrupted in his schooling by the Frunco-Prussian war, persuades his father to let him plan a house for his newly-married sister and her husband, who are away touring in Italy. The opportune arrival of a cousin who is an architect turns Master Paul’s pastime into a serious pursuit, and the story gives, on the slightest possible thread of narration, an account of the whole process of planning and constructing a French country-house.
It is a pleasure to see the freshness of thought and clearness of explanation which distinguish the Dictionnaire and the Entretiens brought to bear on the simple subjects of this book. The illustrations, as in all M. Viollet le Due’s works, are from his own drawings. Few men in his profession — or out of it — have his facility in seizing the best points for illustration and setting them forth clearly and compactly. The artistic element, present as it is inevitably in everything that he does, is brought in entirely unacknowledged. The whole subject is treated in the most purely matterof-fact and practical spirit, the question of art being resolutely ignored, and the pretensions of artistic aspiration, divorced from practical forethought, cleverly embodied in one of the subordinate characters, who gives occasion to contrast the author’s views of constructive and purely logical treatment with the “monumental” and artistic theories of the schools ; he ends by saying to the architect, “ You ought to go to America,” getting the very reasonable answer, “ Perhaps I should do wisely, if I knew that they tried to build there in accordance with the tastes and needs of the inhabitants, but in America, as everywhere nowadays, pretensions are made to ‘ style,’ and things considered fine are eagerly copied; that is, traditions are applied at random, the origin or principle of which is not sought.”
The mode of building described differs, it is true, in many details front those in common use in France, being rigorously constructive and excluding many of the ordinary devices of the French workman, especially the abundant stucco in which he delights. But the ordinary technical processes and the operations of the workmen are described with minute clearness, and the work of the architect in his office and on the ground, from the first planning to the final supervision, are clearly set forth. The chapters on carpentry and joinery are interesting for showing wide divergence from American ways of using and working material, especially in the matter of framing, in which, for common structures, European methods are quite inferior to ours in economy of the material and directness of its application, though usually superior in solidity and thoroughness. Other chapters, as those on roofing and plumbing, and those on laying out and measuring, show how much more minute and systematic the. French are in their work. The remarks on drawing and the importance of the use of perspective are valuable, and especially apposite to a school of architects who neglect perspective design as generally as the French do.
Such a clear account of the processes of designing and erecting a building should be of great value in the preliminary studies of an architectural student, for it describes in orderly succession the operations which he has commonly to learn piecemeal in the routine of an office, and arrange into a system for himself as best he may ; operations, moreover, many of which are omitted, or only incidentally touched upon, in the curriculum of an architectural school.
The heliotypes with which the American edition is illustrated, though they lack the refinement of the original wood-cuts, are clear and effective.
We are sorry not to close our notice here, but we are in duty bound to protest against the way in which the translation is made. It is very difficult to render a technical treatise from one language into another, and the coöperation at least of some one well versed in the subject and its terminology is absolutely necessary. Here such cooperation was perfectly easy to find, and its neglect was inexcusable, for evidently the translator is entirely ignorant of the subject in hand. That any translator should hope to reach an intelligible result by substituting for a French word which he does not know an English word which he does not understand is very surprising. But Mr. Towle appears to have shut himself up with his dictionaries, giving for some of the French terms such English ones as were set down for equivalents, rendering others literally into ordinary English, and transferring bodily those that he discovered his inability to translate. Sometimes successive reappearances of the same word seem to have at last educated him into a comprehension of its meaning, yet he does not then take the trouble to go back and correct his earlier mistakes. At other times he stumbles complacently through long sentences in which it is hardly conceivable that he can imagine any meaning. Occasionally he takes refuge in the absolute suppression of an obdurate passage. We may be par doned for wishing that he had availed him self oftener of this relief. That under the circumstances bolts should be called “ pins,”and wall-plates “sleepers,”and headers “ trimmers,”and treads “ shelves,” and trusses “ ribs,”and braces “ trusses,” a toprail a “ high cross - piece,” and bonding “ apparatus ” or “ dressing,” and wall-girders “ ashlarings,” with a hundred other such blunders, was to be expected. When he comes to the description of processes, Mr, Towle fares yet worse, and it would he difficult to believe that he did not know he was talking nonsense, were it not as difficult to conceive that he could complacently publish it if he did know it. But it is not only in technical points that Mr. Towle blunders. Careless and slovenly are the lightest words that fitly characterize a translation so full of slips and errors.
To track his faults and blunders is a weary business, and it would be a weary business for our readers to follow us. But we ought to give some support to our condemnation : we choose a few examples.
On page 48 Mr. Towle says, “ The young are too old, the rest are too young : ” the French is, “ Les uns sont trap vieux, les mitres sont trop jeunes.” We read of timber “ cut in large squares ” for roughly squared (p. 91); “ verdâtre ” is translated “ verdant ” instead of greenish (p. 54); in other places we have “ designing” for drawing, “ cube” for volume, “scissors ” for chisels, “in connection with” for in proportion to, “ from floor to floor ” for from floor to ceiling; an droit, de, in line with, is persistently translated “ at the right of,”as if it were à droite de, — and so on.
We have complained of the translator for talking nonsense, and blundering through things in which he could evidently see no meaning. On page 41 we read, “ Nothing prevents us from erecting alcoves, small gables on the two walls . . . and to cover (sic) these,” for nothing prevents us from building up small gables on the two walls of the bays or alcoves, and from covering these, etc.; (p. 88) “ a metre by a metre and a half high,” for a metre square and half a metre high; again (p. 216), “carry wall-gables on these beams,” for extend from the gable-walls to these girders; (p. 256) “so that these inclinations of the culminating points [of the gutters] shall be at the falls or shafts of descent,” that is, to admit of these slopes from the highest points to the spouts.
But here is enough of quotations. In one point at least we may commend Mr. Towle for a wholesome prudence: he does not venture to offer his reader, after the manner of his original, a glossary of the remarkable terminology he has employed.
We are glad to see that Messrs. Osgood & Co. have in press a translation of the Entretieus sur l'Arehitecture of the same author, and that this is from a competent professional hand.
— Mr. E. C. Gardner’s Homes and How to Make Them2 is a very clever and sensible little book, treating the same problem with M. Viollet le Due, and from nearly the same point of view, but notably unlike The Story of a House in its style, which is peculiarly free and easy, and American. It is a series of letters, originally written for The Springfield Republican, we believe, and purporting to be the correspondence between an architect and some friends whom he is advising in house-building. The letters deal with practical questions of everyday occurrence, without technicalities, and in a very clear-headed and wholesome way. They are written with much vivacity, and are furnished with neat drawings to illustrate the architectural theories of the author, and with some graceful pen and ink sketches, which serve as ornaments rather than illustrations. These latter seem to be by a different hand. The heliotypes are excellent. House-building is a subject of such general and vital interest, and so beset with misapprehensions and absurd notions of what is fine, that we are thankful for books which set forth good doctrine about it in a way that may attract and influence ordinary readers, as these hooks seem likely to do,