Characteristics of the International Fair: Closing Days


DURING the past six months it has been a constant subject of discussion whether the Exhibition would mark a new era for this country in the training and development of our artistic and æsthetic faculties. The frequency of the question has led me to look at the show both as a whole and in detail. To begin with, it is to be remembered that it exhibits the productions of an inartistic age. One of the most decided proofs of this is the place occupied by photography, which has a large pavilion of its own. The real value of photography for likenesses lies in its being the imprint of life ; it is not and never can become an art, but, especially under the stereoscope, it gives something of nature and reality which art cannot do. You look into the eyes of a good photograph and the very glance of a friend mysteriously meets your own ; there is the pulp of life in the lips and hands ; in landscape there is at once some of the actual movement and stillness of nature ; a picture may be painted from memory, but a photograph is the stamp of a bodily presence. The invention deserves universal gratitude for this and the numerous facilities which it offers, but it should be kept within its proper limits. The most egregious instance of its exceeding them is to be found in the English department of Photographic Hall; there are some absurd, blurred groups, representing scenes from the Idyls of the King, which everybody who has been to London will recognize as Mrs. Cameron’s. The attempt at artistic and dramatic effect is enormous ; the result is merely a series of very poor photographs of ill - dressed actors and actresses in exaggerated attitudes. Unfortunately, it is but another case of overdoing a successful experiment : eight or ten years ago Mrs. Cameron, then an amateur, I believe, took very striking and agreeable likenesses ; one of her favorite subjects was the druidical physiognomy of Henry Taylor, author of Philip van Artevelde, whom she used as an advertisement. Another abuse of photography is making it represent living persons as statues. Among the specimens from Cincinnati is the bust of a young girl, whose back and shoulders are turned towards the spectator, the face being seen in profile, looking over the left shoulder ; by well-known devices of powder, pose, and artificial light, the effect of sculpture is given to an extraordinary degree, enhanced by the classic contour of the head and face; it is the best example I have ever seen. But the similarity is brought about by a poor sort of trick, which neither produces illusion nor gives satisfaction ; the hair, instead of folding in wavy masses, looks blowzy, the drapery clumsy, even the lines of the neck and shoulders are too abrupt from the unavoidably false foreshortening ; it is altogether inartistic and looks like neither a statue nor a real woman.

The best American as well as English photographs are those of natural scenery, although ours have some of the hardness and flatness which are seen in even our most beautiful views. America occupies half the building, but our photographs are far from being the best ; indeed, the worst of them are the worst in the Exhibition. I do not understand why American photographs should not be as good as any others, since success depends mainly upon a mechanical process and the clearness of the atmosphere ; but the contrast between the light and shadow is generally too strong, and when this is avoided there is want of distinctness. Everybody knows the wonderful Californian photographs of the Yosemite Valley, and there are two live-oaks from California almost as fine as drawings. We have some very successful photographs on glass, of which the most striking is taken from the whirlpool at Niagara ; the spray has a sharp fixity like frozen particles of water or alum crystals, but the threatening, white mass against the wooded bank, black as night, keeps something of the power of nature. The most beautiful in the Exhibition are the English landscapes, and the finest of these are Vernon Heath’s trees ; the contrast between the black and white is less violent than in ours, and they have a softness and fullness such as belong to their landscape, which are seldom seen in this country ; a great beech or oak stands alone in a grassy space, with some lovely bit of English scenery for background. Next to these are some wonderful sea-views by Colonel Stuart Wortley, probably an amateur, as there used to be a man of fashion of that name about London who was fond of trying his hand at various things ; some of them are so effective as to be scenic, almost theatrical, though how this is contrived it is not easy to say ; perhaps it is due entirely to the titles the gentleman has given them : The Sun his Glory clouds, What are the Wild Waves saying ? Flotsam, etc. These are removed only one step from fine marine views, as Heath’s trees are from Harding’s studies of trunk and foliage ; but the step is impassable.

In the quarters whence most was expected legitimately for the education of the eye, there has been most disappointment, preëminently in the art-galleries. So many careful notices have been given elsewhere by abler judges, that I will not dwell upon them in detail. Makart the Austrian’s three great pieces must be a revelation to those who have never seen the old Venetian canvases and frescoes; his personages are wanting in true beauty and nobility, but a man of our day who dares to lavish color so superbly possesses at least the audacity of genius ; nor is color Makart’s only merit ; his composition is studied from the Venetian masters and Rubens, and there is a generosity about his performances which ought to have an invigorating influence on minds whose highest view of art has been a Meissonier examined through a magnifying glass. The large and serious manner of the principal Spanish pictures is also a wholesome contrast to the petty, patchy, shallow productions of the modern French, frivolous school (the cynical school as somebody calls it), to which, however, Spain has given many adepts, false to her traditions. In the French department of Memorial Hall there are remarkably few of these abominations, but the collection is a very poor one ; the best pictures are some fine landscapes and forest scenes by Rémé. Among the Belgian and Dutch pictures are several agreeable subjects, and a number of very well painted ones, by men who understand their business perfectly, a knowledge in the absence of which no talent should be accepted save on probation. The English collection is incomparably the best ; to begin with, there is the room of older masters, with several fair and a few fine examples of the men who painted in the last half of the past century and the first quarter of this ; it is great good luck that Sir Thomas Lawrence is represented, not by fine ladies nor pretty children, but by such sitters as the three Barings, men neither young nor handsome, on whom the painter was forced to put forth his whole strength. The contemporaries are chiefly familiar names, and their faults are familiar to frequenters of the spring displays of the Royal Academy ; but no room in Burlington House ever musters so many good specimens of good artists at one exhibition. French critics have long reproached English painters with vulgarity, a term which in their language means somewhat less than it does in ours, but implies a degree of what is commonplace and ordinary in conception and execution ; the reproach is just, but it is time the French stopped throwing stones on that score. It does not apply to Frederick Leighton, whose three pictures make him the prominent English painter at the Exhibition ; whatever their shortcomings, they teach two great lessons : first, what a man may achieve by patient development of all his powers, not yielding to the temptation to indulge in an effective trick, nor neglecting form for color, or vice versa, because he is stronger in one than in the other, — in a word, by aiming at perfection rather than success; secondly, by making beauty, not ugliness, his study. Let any one who has seen many modern French pictures, especially of the Eastern school — if one may so call it — think what Gérôme or even Fromentin would have made of the Egyptian Slinger, instead of this model of youthful strength and symmetry, like an antique. What is missed in Leighton’s pictures is only what Nature has denied him, and surely he is one of her favorite children. The total absence of the Unrealists, Holman Hunt (except in his remarkable portrait by himself), Burne Jones, Morris, Rossetti and company, loses us, no doubt, infinite suggestions and exquisite fancies ; but it is better for our excitable imaginations, so prone to fallacy, that they are not here.

Our own artists make a respectable show, which would be more impressive if they could be decimated. After looking at Mr. La Farge’s several canvases, each with its special, peculiar excellence and loveliness ; at two charming portraits by Mr. Porter which catch every eye; at Miss Lea’s clever, masterful likenesses, which, however, have the great vice of doing imperfect justice to her fair sitters ; at a Jewish gentleman in red velvet by William Hunt, glowing from his obscurity, and a number more, besides the Copleys, Stuarts, and Morses in the corridor, national selfcomplacency needs a higher standard than it finds in the Exhibition to keep it at a proper level. There are some good and lovely things among the American water-colors : two sea-side pieces, one of them very small, by W. T. Richards ; a few of Miss Bridges’ ineffably delicate, graceful studies of birds and plants, which, sad to say, are never so good when she forsakes the sober tints of winter ; a girl at a spinet, by Hennessy, another on a beach, by Boughton. All these are enchanting in one way or another, but all except Hennessy err on the side of over-refinement and want of breadth ; the only American landscapes I can remember, either in oil or watercolors, which have sentiment without these weaknesses, are McEntee’s. There is a series of about thirty pen-and-ink drawings nearly a foot square, by Edwin Forbes, called Life Studies of the Great Army, which show great talent. They are faithful, careful, spirited, and humorous, with some of the telling cleverness of the French Algerine painters, but without exaggeration ; horses, negroes, soldiers, sutlers, are all full of life and nature, while the landscape has excellent breadth and expressiveness in plain or hill-side. They are capital in their way. They are for etching on copper, and the United States government. has bought the first proofs.

The exhibition of etching and engraving is small, but, very good, the English taking the lead. There are a few fine views of quays and shipping by Seymour Haden, after Turner ; it is a pity he has sent nothing original, for he has marvelous power ; some of his own port scenes are like Turner’s in black and white. There are some exquisite landscapes by Evershed, delicate yet free and effective; charming scraps and studies of architecture, by E. Edwards, done for a work on old inns ; also some exceedingly bold and picturesque views of coast and cliff, and Stonehenge, by Slocombe. There is a frame full of etchings, illustrating annuals published twenty-five years ago, of the old sentimental style, hawking-parties, a lady and a lute, etc. Even Birket Foster’s landscapes show how great an advance has been made since those times. J. Leighton’s wood-cuts, for children’s books apparently, are fanciful, yet free and true ; and H. S. Marks’ designs in flat color for chromo-lithograph illustrations of still more juvenile volumes are very good indeed, both in outline and expression; there is the smallest possible number of strokes with great result. A good test of the fidelity of ordinary English woodcutting is given by comparing the original drawings of Du Maurier and Swain with the wood-cuts in Punch ; nothing is lost in the transfer to the block, not a shade of expression. There are a few beautiful, delicate etchings by Unger, in the Austrian gallery ; but side by side with the English, if not occasionally surpassing them, are the French, in the Annex. Their best artists are here : Jacquemart, Lalanne, Flameng, Rajon, and the etchings of the last two are masterly in the highest degree, bringing the richness of color magnificently out of mere darkness.

In the Spanish Government Building there were three volumes of lithographs, by Goya, a painter who lived at the end of the last century and beginning of this, and gained an immortal though not a wide-spread fame. His pictures, when he keeps within bounds, are amazing in their fire and fierce dash ; his consummate management of light and shade recalls Rembrandt, his drawing, Gavarni. All this is exemplified in his lithographs, but unfortunately they are principally caricatures or satires, often hideous and grotesque to monstrosity ; his imagination is at once piratical and hag-ridden; but they are wonderful for eccentric effect. In the same building there is a magnificent work on the architectural monuments of Spain ; a mine of instruction and pleasure for those who know enough to profit by it.

It is in the Main Building rather than in those particularly devoted to art that gratification and cultivation of the sense of beauty must be sought. The French have a so-called art-pavilion, which is merely a shop of very poor mantel-clocks and bronzes. Hard by this is a wooden structure containing four great stained glass windows from a maker in Chartres, intended for the Roman Catholic cathedral in New York ; the subjects are the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, St. Bernard preaching the Crusade, Pope Benedict XIII. receiving the Volume of the Brothers of Christian Doctrine, and a battle-scene from one of the early crusades or religious wars. For pictorial effect it is the best in the Exhibition ; the colors are rich and bright except where the black robes of the brothers of Christian doctrine make a big blot ; but it has the ordinary commonplace character of most modern painted windows ; there is nothing suggestive of sacred romance or fervor ; it would be glaringly out of place in an old church, but will be in keeping with the Fifth Avenue edifice for which it is intended. There are painted windows in several galleries of Memorial Hall and a number in the Main Building, chiefly from England, which are the best. The English are fond of introducing figures in opaque white drapery among the glowing hues of party-colored groups, the effect of which is detestable ; they have also attempted whole windows in pale and neutral tints, which are unsatisfactory and displeasing to the utmost point, although the intention is often extremely pretty and graceful. Nevertheless there is a sufficient quantity and variety to give our designers and manufacturers new and valuable notions, of which, judging by their own specimens, they stand in sad need.

There is a great deal of wood-carving in different departments ; another subject in which we are wofully in need of instruction. The Swiss, of which there is most, is conspicuous for its faithful yet spirited imitation of nature, but it is too uncreative to he followed as a model, besides being applied almost entirely to unimportant objects : mantel-clocks, book-racks, brackets, and small knickknacks. The old Flemish wood-sculptors are not unworthily represented by a handsome and very elaborate pulpit from Louvain in Belgium ; the shape is not elegant, and there is a too obvious attempt at harmony and co-relation in the different parts of the structure, which yet do not subordinate themselves successfully to any leading idea ; a certain stiffness betrays the inaptitude of modern hands for this sort of task ; yet the execution is good, and the figures and faces are fine and have an ingenuousness and dignity most unusual and praiseworthy in modern work. There is some very handsome carving from India, rich but not heavy-looking, in wood as black as ebony, whether naturally or artificially darkened I do not know. The entire body of the block is cut away, leaving the flowers and leaves with perforated interspaces ; the pattern is honey-combed into the substance of the wood, yet the block is so thick that the work, although mere open tracery, retains a strong, almost massive appearance. The exhibitor gives you a piece of the rough wood to hold, and you are astonished to find a weight like iron in your hand. In the same section there is some exquisite silver ware of the style for which Kirk of Baltimore is celebrated in this country, raised and chased flowers on a frosted ground, but infinitely more minute, sharp, and delicate both in design and execution; the shapes are commonplace, except some perfume-sprinklers of truly Eastern outline ; but the workmanship is as fine as frost. In this, as in all other native handiwork of real merit, there is a notable degeneracy the moment it is made for the European market ; it loses a peculiar value of nationality which belongs to the pure native work, if it be but a poor little basket or mat.

There is exceedingly beautiful carved work from Florence and Siena, and also that union of carving and inlaying in wood called intarsia for which both cities have been famous for four hundred years. The great charm of the Italian ornamental wood-sculpture is that it requires the same patience and perfection as the Eastern ; the least coarseness or carelessness, or even mechanical execution, destroys its delicacy ; it must always be costly ; there will never be much demand for it, nor a demand for inferior specimens of it. There is some light and pretty Swedish carving, of a very different value from the Oriental, Italian, or Flemish, but applied to very different purposes, — to exterior decoration and architectural embellishment ; there is also some handsome, solid, old carved furniture from Norway, rude, but honest and determined in design and execution.

Among minor objects of art are the fine Russian bronzes by Lancenay, the small but rare display of fine pottery, the terra-cotta figurines by Eugène Blot. In the Portuguese and Italian departments there are excellent small figures in clay or wax, colored after nature, from a foot to two feet high. They are very characteristic, spirited, and graceful, the faces full of individuality and expression ; they illustrate costume, or calling, and are full of charm even when the subject is absolutely homely. It is curious to find so much plastic ability in these humble forms when the sculpture is nearly all from mediocre to bad. The French have some life-size bronzes which show talent ; but the most striking figure is a bronze boy playing ball,— from Chile of all places, — by a sculptor named Plaza ; it has gained a medal.

For a real work of art I incline to think the great mosaic from Carthage, in the Tunisian court, the finest and most valuable at the Exhibition. It is stated to have been part of the pavement of a temple of Diana, near the temple of Astarte in the Byrsa of ancient Carthage, but must itself have belonged to Roman Carthage. It is a group of a lion seizing a horse, of nearly natural size, and although necessarily rather rigid from the unmanageable material of which it is composed, it is full of strength and grandeur.

The Roman Castellani’s exquisite reproductions of the ancient ornaments in his Neapolitan brother’s collection also deserve a place among objects of art. From both their design and execution they make all the other jewelry in the Exhibition look like mere trumpery, except M. Soyer’s magnificent sets, consisting of antique scarabæi mounted in an elaborate and massive imitation of Egyptian style. But the latter do not compare with the Etruscan models.

The Eastern countries, India, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the Dutch and Spanish colonies, China and Japan, especially the last, and Spain herself, with their bronze, brass, porcelain, pottery, carpets, stuffs, embroidery, and arms, chiefly furnish the picturesque and artistic elements in the general interior effect of the Exhibition. It owes much, too, to the natural good feeling for color in the savages of southern climes ; to the coarse cotton and carpet ware of many nations, the Swedes, for instance; to the common crockery of Bohemia, Portugal, etc., which have been spoken of before. It is not by copying or imitating the special styles of other countries and civilizations that we shall reach a higher point or fuller development in our own process of expansion, but by using this unprecedented opportunity for studying and comparing them. It is certain that our people have the keenest and most eager avidity for these matters ; no portion of the Exhibition is so crowded as the art galleries, even on the twentyfive cent days. A great many people have bought, according to their ability, from the costly enamels and porcelain of China and Japan to the coarse pottery of different nations, admirable in form and color ; all the best objects of bronze, brass, terra-cotta, china, and embroidery, at all within the scope of private purses, have long been sold, and ordered in duplicate, sometimes twenty times over. The scattering of so many rare and beautifnl things through our homes must give a great and sane impetus to the desire for decoration which had already appeared in them.

Since the preceding pages were written, the great show has come to an end. The autumn brought daily increasing crowds ; Philadelphia became a strange city to her own children, who found themselves outnumbered in their own streets and public places by people who walked with another gait and spoke with a different accent. They gayly took possession of town and country, and frankly interchanged their opinions, which were often edifying ; there were New Yorkers who would have done the thing much better, Bostonians who would not have done it at all, Western folk who would like to do it themselves ; from the vast majority a tribute of hearty contentment and admiration. Philadelphia will not be likely to think herself a smaller place for all this ; the point is that she shall know how much larger the world is. The extraordinary absence of fatal illness or accidents in the concourse of countless multitudes, the financial success of the enterprise, the unimpeachable integrity and disinterestedness which have marked its local management, the perfect satisfaction of the foreign commissioners, who, whatever their grievances against the custom-house or general direction, have only praise for the Board, are causes for both gratitude and selfgratulation : “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.”

It was time that it should come to an end. The dust of half a year had spread dinginess over the interiors ; buyers had despoiled many of the handsomest stands and cases ; the exhibitors and employés were worn out. The grass was trodden bare in numberless cross-tracks and short cuts ; the flowers-beds were filled with brown litter and ghostly white stalks ; the falling leaves disclosed the meanness and shabbiuess of the smaller buildings, and seemed to bring them too near together. Every one feels how the interest and excitement will be missed, how the lively and agreeable foreign element which has pervaded society will leave it flat and insipid when withdrawn ; but they confess that it has lasted long enough, and the first cold weather proved that “ the Centennial ” was no resort for winter. The closing day came in the midst of the uncertainty and suspense about the election. Ceremonies similar to those of the opening were announced, to be held in the open air as before ; the grounds and buildings were more crowded than on the first day, but people were more eager about their last look and purchase than about the programme. About midday a steady rain began, which became heavier and heavier as the afternoon went on ; nobody heeded it, but paddled about in and out of doors with or without umbrellas, with handkerchiefs and towels pinned over their heads, in an indifference to falling weather most unusual in America. Meanwhile, unknown to them, a close carriage and pair of draggled horses had brought the president, and the formal closing was going on in the Judges’ Hall before a select few ; at four o’clock the Exhibition was declared to be over by the Chief Executive.

Whether it has done much or little for our æsthetic training, — and I believe it has done much, — that was not the sole or best kind of education to he expected from an international fair. It has diffused an incalculable amount of general information, geographical, historical, and scientific, among millions of people ; such information is necessarily most superficial, but it fertilizes the common mind and in many cases gives tho impulse to serious research. It has been a preparation such as, with us, no previous generation has enjoyed for that broader, deeper, more complete education which can be attained in no country except by seeing others. For many of us hitherto, half that advantage has been lost when we did compass it, by the total ignorance in which we traveled. But there is a still higher education in which the six months of the Exhibition ought to have done the work of an ordinary life-time, by enlarging our views, uprooting our prejudices, and implanting the sense of universal brotherhood, of fellow-laborhoud in the field of the world, which is the chief lesson of Christianity.