THE picture which Mr. Duveneck has recently sent home from Munich affords fresh and striking evidence of his very remarkable skill in the technical part of his profession, and abundantly confirms the impression of power conveyed by the few heads and unfinished sketches previously shown by him in Boston. There is the same ability to represent, without apparent effort and by what appear on examination to be very inadequate means, the outward appearance of any natural object whatsoever. Every touch or sweep of a brush full charged with color has evidently been placed once for all in exactly the right place, never afterward to be disturbed. There is no sign of hesitation or vacillation ; everything seems (though of course it only seems) to have been done at ouce, and the whole picture finished, or rather carried as far as the artist chose to carry it, at one sitting.
In one respect, at least, the present painting shows progress. Though larger and fuller, that is, representing a greater number of objects than any of his previous at tempts, it is more uniformly finished or carried out: there are no portions left incomplete or scarcely begun, as was the case in some of the best of such works of his as we have hitherto seen, — notably in the boy whistling, which promised so much, and the sketched portrait of a woman with a fan. The artist seems to be more sure of himself, to have more confidence in his methods of working. This, indeed, may not be altogether an advantage. The whole art of painting by no means consists, as we trust Mr. Duveneck will one day discover for himself, in a thorough mastery of processes.
The color, too, is better in this picture : there is less use of black to get depth of tone. Mr. Duveneck has, however, already shown us that he can imitate at pleasure the ruddy carnations of Rubens and the silvery tones of Velasquez; and he may now have been making only another imitative experiment, inspired by the present mania for Oriental subjects, treated more or less after the fashion set by Regnault and Fortuny. We have yet to wait in order to see what will be Mr. Duveneck’s own style and color.
The painting to which bus been given the title of The Turkish Page is a large canvas about five feet in width by about three and a half in height. Nearly in the centre of the composition a boy wearing a Turkish fez is seated upon a leopard’s skin spread upon a pavement of white and black marble. He has a shawl or scarf wound about his waist, but all the upper part of his body, including his arms, which are frightfully thin, is wholly nude. His legs, stretched out straight before him, are concealed by a bit of tawny-colored velvet which is spread over them, from beneath which his naked feet protrude, with their soles turned almost directly toward the spectator. He leans his hack against a wall behind him, upon which is lumg a large coarse rug, of Oriental design ; but be partly supports himself upon his left hand, which rests on the floor beside him, while his right hand grasps the rim of a brass basin which lies in his lap, and upon whose edge, immediately over the boy’s hand, is perched a white cockatoo, with outstretched wings. Iu the basin are a lemon and bunches of grapes, some of which, detached from the clusters, have rolled upon the floor. The boy’s chin is sunk upon his breast; his eyes, hidden by the half-closed lids and long eyelashes, seem to be listlessly following the movements of the bird. On the boy’s left a tall vessel of unpolished copper, somewhat resembling a coffee-pot, risiug out of a broad dish or platter, also of copper, stands on the marble floor. A strong light, not sunshine, entering from the left front, pervades the whole scene.
The picture we have attempted to describe appears to have no story to tell, or if it have one it fails to tell it. It has, properly speaking, no local color, no locality. The hoy is quite as much Jewish as Turkish; with the exception of his fez, his costume, so far as we cau see it, is not that of a Turkish page, while his white arms and sunburnt hands show that this is not his usual dress ; what he wears ou his nether limbs is carefully concealed by the square yard of velvet spread over his knees. We cannot make out what he is doing : he has plainly no conceru with the copper vessel beside him, which, covered as it is with dust, has evidently been long disused. Whether he is feeding the cockatoo, or allowing him to steal his own frugal dinner, are alike matters of doubt. We are at a loss to interpret the expression on tire boy’s face: whether as sullemiess, or simple vacuity, or weariness of his constrained position, the latter seeming the most probable.
There is something annoying and even exasperating in this uncertainty in which we are left in regard to the meaning of the scene before us, which, added to the hoy’s painful emaciation and the uninteresting, if not positively disagreeable character of his face, detracts greatly from the pleasure we might otherwise have in the technical qualities of the painting. It is not necessary that a picture should tell a story or relate an incident; it need not he either historical or anecdotical; but if it does attempt narration it should at least speak coherently and intelligibly.
It is unfair, however, to criticise as a picture what is evidently only an academic study. The boy is plainly a model costumed for the occasion and surrounded by such easily arranged accessories as serve to give a hint of local color. The art schools of Munich, we are told, are very liberally furnished with appliances of the sort adapted to every age and country.
Mr. Duveneck still professes to be only a student; and we see no reason as yet to fear that he will disappoint the hopes of those who would gladly hail him as a master. He is yet preoccupied with the material side of art; and the chief satisfaction he derives from its study and practice at present is, we are inclined to think, the delight of triumphing over technical difficulties. And yet, great as are his abilities in this direction, the result is not altogether satisfactory. The difficulties are got over rather than fairly vanquished. The bare facts of form and color are too briefly and succinctly stated ; we are given an inventory rather than a description, prose rather than poetry. There is little evidence that the painter was moved by any beauty or charm in the objects he represents; all,with scarcely an exception, are rendered by the same summary and expeditious sweep of the brush ; there is no caressing of outlines and but little distinction of textures; all is hard, almost vitreous ; there is a want of aerial perspective, of atmosphere. Still, we think we see evidences in this painting that Mr. Duveneck is beginning to be aware that, even in the mere technicalities of painting, higher pleasures than the most rapid and effective execution can ever give are reserved for the patient worker. The boy’s red fez and the white and rose colored plumage of the bird are admirable studies; and we cannot but fancy that they were painted more lovingly, with a more lively appreciation of their intrinsic beauty, than most other parts of the canvas; less as a difficult than as a delightful task.
We should also say that the picture is well placed in the canvas, and the various objects well and effectively grouped.
We shall await with interest the appearance of fresh works from Mr. Duveueck’s easel, hoping to see in them, side by side with that firm hold upon nature which we trust he will never relax, a little more of that imagination which is able to cast a halo of beauty around the most trite and trivial objects, and without whose aid the most perfect combinations of form and color become uninteresting and commonplace, He has nearly, if not quite, mastered the painter’s language ; we trust he will soon show us that he has something to say in that language which is worth the saving.
— The two volumes of the Art at Home Series already published are rather attractive little books, exhibiting outwardly something of that affectation of quaintness which is perhaps too often a characteristic of the sort of art of which they treat. They are handsomely reprinted from the original English edition of Macmillan & Co., of London, and a commendable degree of care has been taken in printing the illustrations as well as the letterpress.
The introductory volume, A Plea for Art in the House,1 is from the pen of Mr. W. J, Loftie, who also furnishes a preface for the second volume. It consists for the most part of a defense of the practice of making collections of bric-a-brac, chiefly upon the ground of what the author calls its “ prudence,” that is to say, because there is money to be made by it. This point is illustrated by an abundance of anecdotes which at the same time serve to show the risks run by those who engage in the business without some previous knowledge of the wares in which they propose to deal. Some help is given towards the acquisition of such needful information ; and for further enlightenment the reader is constantly referred to those great repositories of what the French call “objects of art and of curiosity,” the British and South Kensington museums.
We have not as yet in America any such vast collections with which to compare our little private hoards and findings, though a beginning is being made in our Boston Art Museum. It may also be objected by American readers that the field for collectors is a very narrow one in a new country like ours. But if the field be narrow it is not altogether barren. A visit to the Historical Museum recently opened at the Old South, or to the spacious warerooms of some of our dealers in old furniture, will show what sort of collections and how large may be made even when confined to objects of native production, or to such as were brought from England in the days when our fathers claimed to be Englishmen.
The chief advantage which Mr. Luftie holds out as an inducement to engage in the business of collecting does not appeal to a very high order of motives; but the business itself, though useful and often necessary, is not one that holds a very high rank among the pursuits more or less connected with the arts. The collector is in fact a sort of artistic jackal. It is not at all necessary that he should be an artist or that he should have the least artistic taste or perception, He needs only to be a connoisseur, a person who knows all about an art though he may know nothing of art itself. The two kinds of knowledge are, however, often mistaken for each other, much to the prejudice of the interests of true art, as has been well pointed out by Mr. Hamerton in his admirable book, Etching and Etchers.
In his concluding chapter Mr. Loftie discourses of Art and Morals, and endeavors to show that the cultivation of taste may be not only a moral but even a religious duty. Whether to live always in an artistic atmosphere, in houses architecturally irreproachable, surrounded only by rare and beautiful objects, is conducive to our moral health, at least to the extent sometimes claimed, may well be doubted.
In an artistic point of view, the best result to be hoped for from the increased attention given of late to the industrial, including the household arts, is the development of an improved taste in the consumers of the products of those arts. This, it may be hoped, will compel in turn a corresponding improvement on the part of producers or manufacturers, and so, finally, bring about the disappearance of that positive ugliness which now seems to be the inevitable concomitant of cheapness. Whether this improved taste is to be a benefit or otherwise to individuals or to the community will depend upon the use to which it is put. It is at least worth remembering that whenever the arts have condescended to become the mere servants of luxury and ostentation, they have at once begun to decline.
The second volume of the series treats of House Decoration,1 a subject on which the authors should be competent to write understandingly, as these two ladies have for some years followed with success, in London, the business of practical house decorators.
“It is middle-class people specially ” — say the Misses Garrett in their introduction — “ who require the aid of a cultivated and yet not extravagant decorator, who may help them to blend the fittings of their now incongruous rooms into a pleasant and harmonious habitation,” and it was for middleclass English people, accordingly, that their book was written.
After drawing a dismal picture of the actual condition of the class of houses which they propose to reform, the authors proceed to give a somewhat detailed account of the changes they would recommend in entrance halls, dining-rooms, drawing-rooms and bedrooms ; these changes being for the most part in accordance with the so-called Queen Anne style, of which the Misses Garrett are decided, though not “ rabid ” partisans.
This style seems to be the fashion of the day in England, where for interior decoration and furniture, at least, its lighter and more delicate proportions bid fair to displace the severe simplicity and general heaviness of the styles indifferently known as Gothic, Mediæval, or Early English. In its revived form the Queen Anne style has as yet scarcely been introduced into this country ; but ancient aud original examples of a very similar if not absolutely the same style may be found in our old mansion houses of the last generation. At all events we must all have seen chimney-pieces in our old New England houses more or less resembling those represented in the frontispiece and on page 46 of the Misses Garrett’s book, while the tall eight-day clocks and the straighthacked, claw-footed chairs which figure in several of the illustrations have a very familiar air. Their improvements, especially as shown in the illustrations, will not, we think, command unreserved approval. We seem to detect iu them some lingering traces of peculiarly English forms of bad taste, which the application of a partial remedy, limited, in accordance with the avowed intention of the authors hy considerations of cost, has not entirely obliterated. It is a serious drawback to the usefulness of the book in this country that it is so obviously adapted to the latitude of London. Whatever maybe our own short-comings in the matter of household taste, it is very evident, from the perusal of this little volume, that whether greater or less, they are not precisely the same with those of our transatlantic cousins. It consequently happens that much of its excellent advice is inapplicable to any condition of things existing here, and much of it wholly unintelligible to American readers.
- A plea for Art in the House, with Special Reference to the. Economy of collecting Works of Art, and the Importance of Taste in Education and Mor-als. By W. J. LOFTIE, B. A., F. S. A., Author of In and Out of London. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates.↩
- Suggestions for House Decoration in Painting, Wood-Work, and Furniture. By RHODA and AGNES GARRETT. Philadelphia : Porter and Coates.↩