IN considering the peculiar merits of a work of such importance as the Illustrated Longfellow,1 the second volume of which is just issued, it is not the artistic quality of the publication alone that deserves recognition. First of all, the original idea of producing an edition of the works of Longfellow which should be a worthy monument to his genius was as happy as it was timely. At no period in the history of the country has there been such a wide-spread, healthy interest in art in all its forms as during the past few years. The public appreciation of good illustration was never before half so much developed as at present. The countries old in the history of art do not produce nearly as high an average degree of excellence of illustration as that found in the American publications. The time is ripe, then, for the best use of the artistic talent of the country. The field for the exercise of this talent is in the publication in question certainly the most congenial one that could be selected, for it embraces a great variety of subjects, foreign and domestic. Those of Longfellow’s poems which are inspired by events in the history of the country have been familiar to the young generation of artists from their school-days on, and have doubtless lost none of their stimulating influence on the imagination, but like other poems from the same pen have grown dearer with long acquaintance. To call upon American illustrators was to summon, then, ready assistants in the work. It is safe to say that no project of the kind ever met with more favor among artists, or found more sympathetic coöperation, than this. It was talked over in the studios as a rare opportunity to place a drawing in the most attractive and favorable surroundings. In much the same way that the painters look forward to the gratification of seeing their pictures in a permanent gallery in the best of company did the illustrators enjoy the prospect of seeing their work in these volumes ; for it must be remembered that one of the greatest disappointments of an illustrator’s experience is that most of his best work is swamped, after an ephemeral popularity, in the great mass of illustrated literature. The conditions under which the artistic contributions to the volumes were conceived and executed were, it is apparent, just those which assured the success of the work at the start.
Upon glancing at the volumes, one feels first that a great part of the decorative aspect of the pages is due to the beautifully drawn titles, headings, and tail-pieces by Mr. L. S. Ipsen. Done with few variations from the same general character in the combination of forms and ornaments, they are still wonderfully free from monotonous repetition either of arrangement or of motive of design. The fertility of invention of many of the titles is indeed remarkable, and the uniform good taste shown in the adaptation of the spirit of the composition to the subject of the poem which they introduce is worthy of all praise. A good example of dignified and stately design, quite in keeping with the poem, is the half title of Christus. The decorative border around the Epilogue is a rich and graceful combination of vines and flowers with the symbols of faith, hope, and charity. In this, as in all the rest, Mr. Ipsen depends for the decorative effect on the beauty of the forms and the tasteful combinations of them ; not on the startling oppositions of tones, or on curious contrasts, which are the sole qualifications of much of the popular black-and-white decoration of the day. Mr. Ipsen’s decorative work has elements of lasting beauty.
Probably no artist has entered more into the spirit of his work than Mr. C. S. Reinhart, whose figure of the laborer kneeling at the cathedral door is one of the finest in the book. In his drawings for the Golden Legend he has given not only variety of type, but many different methods of execution, thus adding to the interest of his contributions. He would probably be less satisfied himself with the full-page of Prince Henry and Elsie than with the figures of the prince and Lucifer, or with either of the spirited compositions of the carousing monks. The full-page is meagre and somewhat flat, while the others are full in form and composition. The two drawings of monks above mentioned, with another of the procession, although less studied in respect to tone than some of the rest, are very cleverly grouped and faithful in expression. Mr. Reinhart’s types are particularly good. For example, it is interesting to compare the Barabbas in Prison with the drawings of the monks, and notice the number of distinct and characteristic types accurately given. Next to Mr. E. A. Abbey, — the absence of whose charming work is to be regretted in any collection of representative American illustrations,—Mr. Reinhart gives the best satisfaction on any subject he is called upon to interpret.
Frederick Dielman introduces in almost every one of his drawings superabundance of incident and a multitude of accessories that recall the studied compositions of the German painters, and the habit has doubtless its reason in the German training of the artist. These accessories have the picturesqueness of color, which is tempting to the painter, but has little real value to the illustrator. Mr. Dielman’s full-page of Mary Magdelen would do very well for a study of a theatrical odalisque, but has little which harmonizes with the subject. His Daughter of Herodias is open to the same objection. A common fault with Mr. Dielman’s figures is the ungraceful proportion of the head to the rest of the body. Not wishing to err with those who believe they secure grace and dignity by the extraordinary length of the figure, Mr. Dielman often falls into the mistake of exaggerating the size of the head. Very attractive is the soaring angel in the Golden Legend. Mary at the Well looks like a pretty peasant girl of the Tyrol. The interior of the Odenwald farm-house is a capital study. The full-page of Friar Pacificus in the Scriptorium falls short of being very good only by the monotony of the tone. It is easy to see that the artist has sacrificed the simplicity of the effect to the temptation to multiply and elaborate the details of furniture and surroundings.
The influence of early training is also apparent in the drawings of Mr. Will H. Low. His compositions have frequently a certain naïveté, no matter if the general scheme be a conventional one. The Bride, the Bride and Bridegroom, and Helen Asleep on the Balcony, in the Second Passover, are decoratively arranged, hinting of the compositions of Alma Tadema. The Two Maries has a peculiar charm, notwithstanding the illproportioned figures and the material character of the angel.
Most of the groups of biblical subjects are by W. L. Sheppard, and are Oriental in everything but spirit. There can be no agreeable middle ground between the dignified and impressive treatment of subjects of this class and the realistic interpretation of the same. Mr. Sheppard has given to his work many touches of good Orientalism, and shows at times an appreciation of line in the grouping of his figures, even if it is tempered by an indifference to the laws of perspective, but for the most part his compositions are academic and undignified. It is evident from his Burns at the Plow, by far the best of his drawings, and from his Martin Luther, also good in its way, that he is much more at home in that range of subjects.
The colonial subjects are treated in the main by three artists, Mr. A. B. Frost, Mr. F. T. Merrill, and Mr. J. W. Ehninger. The first contributes three illustrations to the Landlord’s Tale, and though the gay Sir Christopher looks more like a Western trapper in semiSpanish costume than an English gentleman of the seventeenth century, credit must be given to the excellence of the drawing and the good arrangement. Mr. Ehninger’s drawings for Giles Corey have the great merit of conscientious interpretation of the subject. The groups are well put together, and the compositions are always intelligent. A good example is Martha and Corey at the farm-house door. It is drawn with precision and care. The only reason why these illustrations are not entirely satisfactory is that they are made with too little sympathy with the period in the history of the country. Mr. Ehninger does not give us the personages of Cotton Mather’s time, but rather sturdy burghers of some foreign country. Perhaps it is too much to expect that the type of face be particularly distinctive, although that may well be insisted upon in any high standard of illustration, but it is certainly not unjust to criticise such manifestly operatic groupings as Mr. Merrill has given in his illustration of John Endicott. But the drawings, however theatrical, are never illegible, and it may be said in their favor that they are neither pretentious nor affected in arrangement. Among the great variety of drawings those by Mary Hallock Foote are prominent for a peculiar grace of line and delicacy of treatment. The full-page of Thalia before the Masque of Pandora is the least successful of the list, although there is an attractive sparkle in the light and shade. In the Hanging of the Crane she is seen to better advantage. The young couple seated reading together in one chair is charmingly done, and there is unusual grace in the figure of the maiden in the orchard. The treatment of both of these is very artistic. Mr. A. Fredericks, beside the illustrations to the Masque of Pandora, furnishes several to the Keramos, notably a full-page of a potter at his wheel. With a good deal of spirit Mr. Fredericks joins a facility that rarely degenerates into conventionality. He is a skillful draughtsman, and composes with taste. Mr. W. H. Gibson, Mr. F. Hopkinson Smith, Mr. F. B. Schell, Mr. J. Appleton Brown, Mr. Ernest Longfellow, and others contribute landscapes, many of which are exceedingly creditable to artist as well as to engraver.
Much of the interest in the volume is in the inviting comparison between the works of different artists and the varied treatment of the different engravers. Mr. A. V. S. Anthony, who has supervised the arrangement of the work, has engraved several of the landscapes and figures. Friar Claus, by Reinhart, is a good rendering of tone, and J. Appleton Brown’s landscapes, with some smaller pieces, are cut with real feeling. Perhaps the best interpretation of textures is T. Cole’s engraving of Low’s Bride, in which the veil thrown over head and shoulders is most skillfully cut. The same engraver has treated with equal skill the drawings for the Hanging of the Crane. A good example of Mr. Henry Marsh’s unequaled delicacy with the graver is the ornamental border of flowers around the short poem Delia. Mr. W. J. Linton’s vigorous hand is readily recognized in several landscapes, and Mr. S. S. Kilburn, Mr. W. J. Dana, and other well-known engravers have assisted very creditably in the work. The volumes make an interesting period in the history of American art, and possess a unique value for future reference. The press-work is admirably in harmony with the character of the publication.
A History of Painting2 falls naturally into comparison with The History of Art, by Dr. Wilhelm Lübke, issued from the same house two years ago. They are alike in their derivation from German sources, in liberal scale of plan and bulk of contents, and quite similar in general aspect. The house of Dodd & Mead, we should say, was entitled to special credit for its ready adventuring into expensive works of this kind for some time past. It chooses to put upon the market, instead of syllabub, something of permanent interest and value, which supplies at the same time the charms of pictorial embellishment and ornate bindings demanded by the holiday season. If there be some mere makers of presents — as there will be, in the genial temper of the time — drawn to make purchase of this History of Art by its covers and general air of attractiveness, in addition to those who will appreciate it intelligently upon inspection of its contents, so much the better. The propaganda is of a sort one need not at all regret to have assisted by any such small favoring circumstances. It is to be hoped that the History of Painting may flourish to the full measure of its deserts, beside the many pretentious volumes of little meaning with which it will come into competition.
Of the work as proposed we have as yet but one half, although that is complete in itself. The volume received carries us from the earliest times through the mediæval period. A second volume, containing the history of painting during its great age, that of the Renaissance, or, as it is here anglicized, — somewhat needlessly, it would seem, since the French form has passed so fully into common use, — Renascence, is promised later. It is not feasible to say what changes may be operated in the account of this second period, where most of what we now understand as comprised in painting really had its origin; no doubt, some supplementary chapters may be devoted to technique, rather in the abstract ; but at present it is a history mainly of paintings and painters, — of the achievements of art rather than, in any special sense, of its processes. That is to say, it is a popular and really historical treatise, and not a disquisition on technical methods, which a professional artist might enjoy or find useful more than others.
Professors Woltmann and Woermann deal much less in philosophic bases and remote origins than Professor Lübke. Their narrative, if not more straightforward, devotes itself less to what “ necessarily must have been,” which gives them the fuller opportunity to display what actually was. They have comparatively little to say of the overflow of certain rivers, the trend of certain uplands, as absolute causes, a tendency which we were inclined to note as a fault, at the time, in Dr. Lübke, since it seemed to result in concepts much too lucid and indisputable, as human affairs go, and to reduce human phenomena too entirely to a matter of charts and tables of mean temperatures. Not that the philosophic tracing of situations to their origins is to be disparaged; on the contrary, nothing is more dignified and useful; and the preoccupation of Lübke, where he deals with the demonstrable and reasonable, is something demanding warm appreciation. Of the two, he will take the more pains, as in the pictured chronicles on the walls of the ancient Egyptian monuments, which Semper has called “ colossal writing-tablets,” not only to explain what is transacting in the varied scenes, but the theory (that of metempsychosis, for instance, as bringing about the extraordinary consideration for the dead) from which the transactions arise.
The History of Painting is not at all so copiously illustrated as the History of Art, but as it has, for its single department, a quantity of letterpress which was shared in the former work with two others, namely, sculpture and architecture, it is vastly more exhaustive in its specialty, and the proportion of illustrations to letterpress cannot be greatly different. The illustrations, though of no especial elegance, are of an unhackneyed character, and the amplitude of the page, together with the frequent practice of setting the blocks lengthways upon it, enables them to be of large size. Rather recondite papyri and missals, as well as monuments, have been drawn upon: as in the Egyptian caricature, at page 20, where there is a ridiculous procession of animals that might have figured in the conceits of Alice in Wonderland ; and the leaf from a psalter of the beginning of the tenth century at page 225, in which a surprising reminiscence of classic shapes, Apollo, the nymphs and satyrs, under Christian guise and of classic ease, has sprung up, or has survived, when all around are the conventional swaddled poses, the lean ribs, and woe-begone visages of ascetic mediævalism.
Whether there be a shade of difference in the handiwork of the two collaborateurs, or it be only the greater novelty and opportunity for simple statement in this portion, the section devoted to the ancient world, intending particularly the classic world, — the division of labor taken by Dr. Woermann, while Dr. Woltmann (who has since died and left the completion of the work to Dr. Woermann, and others) reserved the larger and probably more difficult portion of the task for himself,—will probably be among those most favorably received. The story of Greek and Roman painting has a fascinating quality from its unique circumstances. It might be supposed — such is in fact the supposition most prevalent, from the paucity of remains — that there had been no classic painting of consequence, and that the section on this head might be proportionally brief. There exist, however, in the works of the most reputable classic writers, found veracious in other particulars, such accounts of painters and painting of their day as to compel the belief that the art had reached a high degree of perfection, even judged by present standards ; and that if examples do not survive, it is only that they were overwhelmed, and perished like everything else ephemeral around them, including dwellings and almost all the belongings of domestic life, in the tremendous devastation by human rage and the elements. The story is gathered from classic literature. It is the business of the ingenious investigator to weigh, sift, and illustrate it by analogies to be found in the scanty remains so strangely preserved at Pompeii and Herculaneum, under the ashes of Vesuvius.
Dr. Woermann, availing himself much of Brunn, who had already established his authority in this field, brings to his treatment the taste of the connoisseur in art and the erudition of the scholar. Whoever will go to the original sources of information, in the classics, will find himself aided by the author with copious directions. Dr. Woermann follows the advance of the Greek painters, from the conventional, flat-tinted figures of the Egyptian frescoes to accurate drawing, the discovery of perspective (through the necessities of scene-painting, a point the more for panegyrists of the stage to include in their reckoning), of illusion by chiaroscuro, and of solid and realistic grounds, with the sympathy of one who knows what each of these steps means, and takes account of the groping as if it might have been of his own experience. At the end, it can hardly be doubted, from weight of evidence, that a point had been reached parallel to the attainment in the sister art of sculpture at the same time, and only falling short of that of the modern period by lack of the perfected method of painting in oils, since discovered. One Aresteides had prices for his pictures — one hundred thousand dollars from the king of Pergamos for his Dionysos —to which the compensation of the Meissonniers and Bouguereaus is but beggarly. Nikias declared — and it is a motto worth consideration at least, still, — that the artist should not fritter away his skill on insignificant objects, but rather paint battles of cavalry and sea-fights. And Pliny reports of Ludius, who flourished under Augustus, that he painted “ villas, colonnades, examples of landscape-gardening, woods and sacred groves, reservoirs, straits, rivers, coasts, all according to the heart’s desire ; and amidst them passengers of all kinds, on foot, in boats, driving in carriages, or riding on asses to visit their country properties; furthermore, fishermen, bird-catchers, hunters, vintagers. Or, again, he exhibits stately villas to which the approach is through a swamp, with men staggering under the weight of the frightened women whom they have bargained to carry on their shoulders ; and many another excellent and entertaining device of the same kind. The same artist also set the fashion of painting views, and that wonderfully cheap, of sea-side towns, in broad daylight.”
There is no part of this first volume of the History of Painting which will not well repay perusal, and it may confidently be expected that the second will surpass it in interest. Prepared with the advantage of the latest discoveries in the field, excellently translated, and ably edited by Professor Colvin, — occupant of the fine-art chair under the Slade foundation at Cambridge, like Ruskin at Oxford, and favorably known by his writings in The Portfolio and elsewhere, — it is difficult to say why it should not take rank in English, when completed, as in the tongue from which it is derived, as the standard authority on the subject.
Miss Humphrey has made some fifteen views for a poem 3 1 hat celebrates the charm of a mood of indolent, very slightly pensive reverie, and pulsates with sunshine and balmy airs. It is a reverie in the American manner at not too advanced an age ; that is to say, the romantic young American, unless engrossed by personal considerations, is likely in such a mood to let his fancy drift to the places he deems the most beautiful in the world, and these are pretty sure to be in the Italy of tradition. The soul of the poet, in the lines so very much quoted, —
Sailing the Vesuvian Bay.”
Miss Humphrey follows it thither, and presents a bright view from a Neapolitan terrace; some cliffs, apparently at Castellamare ; a glimpse of the bare, volcanic lands of Vesuvius, with the ominous smoke above ; a bright Ischia, again, in which the sparkling whites of the reflections under the island and the shallop in front have a tricky effect,— a certain suggestion of the drippings of sperm candle, then some miscellaneous scenery; and at the end a charming allegorical female figure (head and bust) lying among lily pads. The poem is of a superficial, descriptive sort, except for the one nice touch of pensiveness in the stanza, —
Where traffic blows,
From lands of sun to lands of mows;
This happier one,
Its course is run
From lands of snow to lands of sun.”
The artist interprets this by two small ships going in opposite directions, done with quite the literalness of the illustrated paper or a cut from a spellingbook, and two appended scenes, in which a water-fall is streaming down in the Arctic regions, and the land has less an appearance of being covered with snow than that in the tropics. Miss Humphrey is unequal, but she is so good in the figure in the lily pads, and in the child with the gamboling kid on the cliffs at Capri, that one inclines to ascribe the defects elsewhere to careless or even intentional slighting of her work.
In treating Tennyson’s Dream of Fair Women,4 as it is a piece of literature of a nobler and more reflective cast, a higher order of ability was demanded. It has been sought from twenty different artists, among whom the thirtyeight designs are distributed, but not with uniform success, so far as the fair women themselves are concerned, — the memorable figures of the world’s greatest crises, with whom the poet supposes himself to fall in, in a twilight wood.
In the minor vignettes, the landscapes of Rix, J. A. Brown, Martha Simpson, and particularly a chalk-and-gray-paper morning effect by Hopkinson Smith, very freely rendered by the engraving, are all good.
A nice effect of light falls on the white gown of Mary Hallock Foote’s Fair Rosamond, — one of the large illustrations ; and Reinhart’s Joan of Arc, though too mature, and flustered by the nimbus of divine ordination to her mission, which comes flying at her head like a dinner-plate, is a bold, nobly poised figure, — probably the most artistically engraved, with its landscape background, in the series.
But the Helen by J. M. Cameron — she who says of herself,
Where’er I came I brought calamity ” —
is sufficient to carry off much more com-
monplaceness than there is about it. The illustrator who could do this remarkable head should not have been curtailed to a single effort. The draping and attitude recall the Cenci. The lighting is beautifully limited and inclosed in a breadth of darkness, in the Rembrandtesque manner. The woman for whom “ many drew swords and died ” turns back over her shoulder, spread with her loose hair, “ the star-like sorrows of immortal eyes.” A really distinguished effort has been made here to realize the greatness of the character. It has succeeded, in an expression which is pathetic, subtile, penetrating, and haunting to a degree.
M. Rayet is one of those, decidedly, who holds the banal, the simply pretty, in wholesome contempt. His collection,5 on this account, is not at all likely to find its market with the Philistine. The plan adopted for it allows him the greatest liberty of choice, and in the first installment (of the five, in which the series is to be completed) he has selected largely from very much damaged examples, headless and limbless in the figures, for the just appreciation of which thorough connoisseurship is needed, and has supplemented these with others of a pronounced archaic sort. That his bias throughout will not be greatly different may be gathered from a few of his prefatory remarks. He says, “ We shall publish nothing not of interest from the point of view of art, but we find of interest all that testifies to a sincere effort, a real sentiment, even when the hand is still maladroit and does not render the thought full justice. The rude and awkward naïveté of the primitive masters has nothing repulsive for us, while we find the vulgar facility of the artists of the decadence irksome. We shall have recourse to the early periods often, therefore, but shall rarely come down very late. When we leave Greece of the fifth and fourth centuries, our preference will be for the Egypt of the Pharaohs and Assyria of the Sargonides, rather than the Rome of the Cæsars.”
All this will give the work novelty and value. The latitude of the scheme is such that, at the end, the possessor will not have any one period or number of periods, or series, of an existing gallery complete, but a choice collection from many, made under the guidance of one whose able writing, in the accompanying letterpress, shows him to possess knowledge, enthusiasm, and widely extended scholarship. Each plate, even, is complete in itself, with its letterpress paged for it alone, and might take its place in one part of the large folio livraison as well as another.
There are mechanical facilities now — and these, with the later discoveries in archæology, are the excuse for a repetition of the enterprise—that Winkelmann and Muller, when they undertook the collection of the monuments of ancient art, could not have dreamed of. The plates are beautifully made by a heliographic process, which, besides absolute accuracy, reproduces the texture of chipped and broken marble, of bronze, and of terra cotta, in the Tanagra figurines, to the point of illusion.
- The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Illustrated. Boston : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1880.↩
- A History of Painting, Ancient, Early Christian, and Mediœal. Vol. I. From the German of the late DR. ALFRED WOLTMANN, Professor at the Imperial University of Strassburg, and DR. KARL WOERMANN, Professor at the Royal Academy of Arts, Düsseldorf. Edited by SIDNEY COLVIN, M. A., Slade Professor of Fine Art in the University of Cambridge. With Illustrations. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 1880.↩
- Drifting. By T. BUCHANAN READ. Illustrated from designs by MISS L. B. Humphrey. Philadelphia! J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1881.↩
- A Dream of Fair Women. By ALFRED TENNYSON. Illustrated. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. 1880.↩
- Monuments de l'Art Antique. Publiés sous la direction de M. OLIVIER RAYET, Professeur Supplcant an Collège de France. Livraison I. Paris: A. Quantin. 1880. New York: J. W. Bouton.↩