Art

IF the test of excellence in a pictureexhibition is the aggregate result of simple and non-analytical enjoyment which it leaves with the beholder, the recent display by the Boston Art Club must be accounted distinctly a success. The mood in which it left one, after a careful inspection, was one of repose and satisfaction; and it must be said that the average of merit in the present instance was higher than in the spring exhibition at the National Academy in New York. It is true that the Art Club assists itself with the work of foreign masters; but perhaps the most striking pieces on its walls this spring were a half-dozen portrait-studies by Frank Duveneck, of Cincinnati. This young man throws himself upon us with impressive abruptness, resolute, skillful, fearless in his realism, and frankly confessing by the catalogue that he himself is the single owner of these several very strong studies; and we are inclined to sympathize with him both in the realism and in the ownership. The Head of a Professor is exceedingly powerful. The old fellow scowls out of the canvas with a ped-

agogic ferocity which might well call back to the stoutest heart some memory of boyish tremors from a similar cause. The relief into which the face is thrown, by the management of light and shade and the liberal application of thick paint to the illuminated portions, is high and startling; the small canvas is fairly blistered with the pigment that goes to the construction of the rough chin, protuberant cheeks, and war-worn nose; while the connecting-piece of the spectacles is literally buried in the substance of this latter feature. It will be seen that such painting as this, however strong or skillful, may easily have a painful effect to some extent. In the Portrait of an Old Man we have more of the painful side of Mr. Duveneck. Here is a stringyfaced old invalid, taken at full length in his arm-chair of plain wood, who makes us think instantly of the hospital. We can read the history of his various ailments in his meagre face, with its white, sickly throat-beard, and we see at a glance that the man’s mind has dried down to a habit of brooding only upon his maladies, and has become incapable of acting in any other direction. It is a considerable achievement, of coarse, to show this much on a flat surface of color. But the subject was ugly and unpleasant, and the artist has taken no pains to conceal its ugliness. He has even thought it necessary to state for us the length and cut of the old man’s dreary gray pantaloons, and he sets the big black foot forward in a way that affects us much as the muscœ volitantes disturb one’s vision. Something of the same difficulty besets the Portrait of a Young Man, in the inner gallery; though the model in this case is by no means disagreeable in appearance. In all these examples there is apparent a deliberate rejection of the higher artistic function of beautifying, in favor of the more sordid end of astoundingly real representation. So comparatively slight a matter as the mode of framing has its significance in this respect. The professor is stretched on a small frame and fenced in very close, being made by these means to fill the space to overflowing, and rush forth impetuously, as it were, upon the spectator; while the other two figures, though very large to begin with, have a great deal of loose background on either side, and very narrow frames — the effect being to give them a squat look, and project them with a quasi ophidian action toward us. But in the Boy’s Head and Head of an Infant, Mr. Duveneck’s eccentricities disappear. These two are in no way sensational, and we are left to concentrate our attention wholly upon the remarkable seizure of character, and the unusual and indubitable mastery of technical resources, which distinguish this new painter. The Head of an Infant, too, has real poetic feeling in it, and this is what is needed in the others. Mr. Duveneck has apparently studied in Germany and with Piloty; he has certainly studied to advantage, so far as technical acquisitions of a superior sort are concerned. We know nothing of him other than what these pictures tell; but their appeal is that of a progressive man, and should be met with encouragement.

There was an excellent full-length portrait by Nelie Jacquemart, and Healy’s fulllength of Longfellow, from the last of which one might read a lesson on the proportions requisite to grace in such a piece, so fully did it exemplify them. We suppose that Bougeaurean’s Oranges, also, may be spoken of as a portrait of a woman and two children. It is painted with wonderful lucidity and grace, and the introduction of the two oranges in immediate contrast with the delicate flesh of the naked baby is immensely skillful; but the defect is that this very point is the one which attracts our attention first. The painter appears as a juggler with a couple of painted balls and a child’s flexile limbs. This child, by the way, might as well have been dressed in tights, so remote and refined away from earthiness is the flesh that has been given him.

Mr. Vinton’s Celestina is more to our mind than either Bougeaureau or Iduveneck. The image rises, in passing, of a nude figure treated throughout as Mr. Iduveneck has treated his faces; and it seems to us that such a figure would be simply appalling in its fleshliness. However, Mr. Vinton stands in an intermediate place, with a picture professing neither the actualness of Duveneck nor the idealized polish of Bougeanreau, but merely the charming reality of art, modifying and sweetening its subject

— a young Italian girl playing a violin, and clad in hided blue kirtle, drab jacket, and a white kerchief yellow-fringed. Green, gray, brown, and red are darkly interblended in the background, and the figure is defined by some bold and yet subdued spreading of lights on face, hair, and form.

A very pleasing landscape was that of Auguste Bonheur, with strong, dry, woolly sheep on a misty meadow that stretched boldly back to the woods. Mr. S. L. Gerry’s The Chaudron, Switzerland, might almost illustrate one of Mr. Longfellow’s recent Italian memories in verse, with its gloom of mountain and gleam of river, and soft sunlit terraces of vines. Mr. W. E. Norton makes a bold venture in his Cyclone

— a mad, green mid-sea, with waves shortened by a furious wind, and a wrecked vessel thrust headlong into the vortex. There is imagination and knowledge in the piece, and one cannot but rejoice to find a marine painter going so resolutely in search of a strong dramatic situation. Not far from this was Mr. J. A. Monks’s Storm Cloud, the massive coloring and poetic treatment of which reminded us of La Farge’s landscapes. It was simply an outspread sheet of green pasture - land, interwoven in places with fibres of red, and over it at a sharp angle to the left upper corner stretched the white, bursting glare of a rainstorm struck with sudden radiance ; but so deep was the feeling, and so harmonious the color, that one found a whole idyl developed on the slender theme. Burnier’s Twilight Scene, close by, showed how a similar subject can be almost ruined by a vibration too much in a special direction; for the sunlit road-pools in its foreground were forced, and had been carried to the point of feverishness. There were other good bits of native landscape in the exhibition, and a large Inness, already described in these pages. Two excellent Corots, and a César de Kock, with its thin black trees like crinkled wires fixed upright in a flutter of light foliage, lent their fleeting grace to the collection. Nor have we ever seen a finer Jacques than this Clearing and Sheep, with its startling distinction of values, its shaggy forest standing out so tough and woodsy under the blue sky, in precisely the same relation which forest and sky would have in nature, and its rough, solid sheep, and equally solid but perfectly smoothly painted and eminently human peasant-girl.

The best of the water-colors was Serafin de Albendaño’s sketch of a broken hill-side of sand or clay, with heavy purple shadow in it and a finely-wrought pine growing above. It was so exceedingly American in material, and so European in its finished skill, that we looked upon its neighbors with a sigh. There was much in the galleries both interesting and pleasurable which we must pass over in silence; but we must give place, as having some of the best qualities of flower-painting, to Mr. T. E. Wright’s pink and white peonies; the pink one well rounded in with white light and rosy shadow, and the seeming ponderosity of both big blossoms being well reconciled with their real lightness and their voluminous grace.