THE twelve numbers preceding the first of January, 1887, which form the forty-first volume of L’Art,1 round out its twelfth year. It is now published simultaneously in Paris and London, and as its influence spreads beyond the borders of France, it exhibits a laudable tendency to widen its scope, so that everything good in the way of art, on both sides of the channel and of the ocean, may be recognized and fostered. For a long time the editor of L’Art has been playing the ungrateful part of a Cassandra, constantly warning the government and people that France is in danger of losing her preëminence, not only in the art of painting, but also in the various applied arts which are the life of her manufactures; he has rung all the changes upon the risks of foreign competition, with the purpose of arousing public opinion to the economic importance of what is called “industrial” art. The rapid growth of the “ art movement ” in the United States has not escaped his anxious notice, and we find, in an article on American Museums, by Alexandre de Latour, a note of unfeigned apprehension, caused by the realization of the potential as well as the actual artistic resources of this country. “We have not neglected,” says Mr. de Latour solemnly, “ nor shall we neglect, any opportunity to point out to the nation the perilous progress made by foreign countries ; ” and he prophecies that American competition is to be more dangerous to France than that of all Europe combined. In a series of severe critical papers on the Salon of 1886, Paul Leroi intimates very distinctly that medals should have been bestowed upon American artists, — Julius G. Melchers and Alexander Harrison being particularly commended as worthy of the highest honors, — and he expresses the current belief that the sole reason for passing them by was that they belonged to “ the country of the thirty-three per cent.” (duty on works of art). He reminds the jury of the humiliating fact that such men as Delacroix, Rousseau, Decamps, Corot, Millet, Diaz, were repeatedly shut out of the Salon, and mentions several almost unknown painters who have no peers in the immense army of the médaillés. All in all, L’Art is no more inclined now than it was a year ago to agree with Sterne that “ they order this matter better in France.”
It is a relief to turn from this pessimistic view of the present and future to the calm, the cheerfulness, and the judicial temper of the critical essays by Emile Michel, or to the pungent and breezy periods of G. Dargenty. The articles by these writers are the most compact, complete, and lucid examples of purely critical work in the volume. Both deal with painters of bygone days : the one with Hobbema, the Dutch landscapist, the other with Gros, the French battle-painter, of whose huge canvases all visitors to the Louvre must have some recollection. M. Michel’s study of Hobbema is illustrated by the author with several drawings after Hobbema’s landscapes in the Louvre and the National Gallery. In fertility, in sustained power, in grandeur of composition, in force of sentiment, in perception of unity, and in poetic elevation, he places Hobbema far below Ruysdael. M. Dargenty describes the five epic works of “ the painter of the Empire,” as he calls the Baron Gros, — The Plague at Jaffa, The Battle of Aboukir, The Battlefield of Eylau, The Battle of the Pyramids, and The Battlefield of Wagram, — and recounts how the genius of their author was stifled by David’s influence.
There are several other contributions which belong to the realm of art criticism : thus Philippe Burty reviews a new biography of Regnault, and brings to light some of that brilliant artist’s hitherto unpublished letters ; M. Michel describes and comments upon the new museum at Amsterdam ; Oscar Berggruen gives a learned account of the works of Rubens in Austria; Eugène Müntz considers Verrocchio as the master and precursor of Leonardo da Vinci; and Gustave Gruyer signs an interesting paper on Fra Bartolommeo’s drawings. Belonging rather to the department of historical research and of curiosity are Charles Yriarte’s articles on the Chantilly art collections lately given to the Institute by the Duc d’Aumale ; Edmond Bonnaffé’s papers on French sixteenth-century wood-carvings ; Emile Molinier’s description of the Correr museum in Venice, and his report of progress in the department of sculpture in the Louvre ; Paul Lafond’s History of Psyche, being an account of a remarkable series of antique anonymous tapestries in the castle of Pau; Charles Cournault’s sketch of the life and works of Ligier Richier, a sculptor of Lorraine two centuries ago, who gave form to some of the most horrible and melancholy thoughts of the human mind ; Germain Bapst’s articles on The Germains of Paris, a family of goldsmiths, whose productions are as rare as they are precious ; M. Champfleury’s study of La Demoiselle Camargo, a dancer, whose portrait in pastels by La Tour in some degree excuses the infatuated nobleman, who is said to have abducted her; and L. de Veyran’s description of four canvases by Fragonard. Relating to music, there are Adolphe Jullien’s disquisitions upon Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod; and in the line of fiction, Paul Bourget’s short story, Un Scrupule, the work of an impressionist whose touch is light and dextrous.
The twenty-six full-page plates of the volume comprise twelve etchings, six wood-engravings, five “ process ” prints, one steel-engraving, one lithograph, and one photogravure. The most meritorious etchings are E. Bocourt’s sympathetic reproduction of Nicholas Maas’s Happy Child (from the original in the collection of the Baron Alphonse de Rothschild), a charming family group of three persons ; Alfred Boilot’s broad and powerful interpretation of a boy’s head in charcoal by Ulysse Butin ; Daniel Mordant’s Music Lesson, after Terburg (from the original in the Princess Demidoff’s collection) ; and P. E. Leterrier’s plucky endeavor to transcribe a Fortuny with the needle. On the other hand, M. Mordant’s Corps-de-Garde, after Teniers, is dull and mechanical; and Henri Dumont’s Salomé can hardly be regarded as a downright etching, for nine tenths of its effects are of tint, and not of line, being due to the printer. There is a dreamy poetic strain in Fantin-Latour’s lithographic illustrations of Wagner’s operas, but in workmanship his Lohengrin is not to be compared with the admirable lithographic plates of the Frenchmen of fifty years ago. The most interesting example of woodengraving is J. J. Puyplat’s block, after Luis Jimenez’s painting of Breton old women in church. None of the engravings dans le texte have more weight than the reduction of J. Schmutzer’s brilliant plate after Rubens’s St. Ambrose forbidding the Emperor Theodosius to enter the Church after the Massacre of Thessalonica. The exuberant and audacious Habert-Dys still disports himself over great spaces in his pen-andink borders, which often leave but a few square inches of room for the text. Some of his recent conceits, however, have been unusually graceful.
- L’Art. Revue Bi-mensuelle Illustrée. Vol. XLI. Paris : J. Rouam, 29, Cité d’Antin. New York : Macmillan & Co.↩