Boston Painters and Paintings



THE Athenæum, which is closely identified with the history of the fine arts in Boston, opened its first exhibition of pictures in 1826, and thereafter exhibitions were maintained yearly up to 1849, when the institution was moved from Pearl Street to Beacon Street. In 1850, the first exhibition in the new building was made specially interesting by a display of about sixty of Washington Allston’s works. It was not far from that date when the “ Dusseldorf gallery,” containing specimens of the handiwork of Lessing, Gude, the Achenbachs, and others of their school, was placed on exhibition. In 1854, the series of five paintings illustrating the Course of Empire, by Thomas Cole, was exhibited, and received much attention. This series, designed to symbolize a nation’s rise, progress, greatness, decline, and fall, was universally talked of, engraved, and widely known. Next came the exhibition of Frederick E. Church’s renowned painting, The Heart of the Andes, so eloquently described in a posthumous volume of sketches by Theodore Winthrop, who was a friend of the artist, and introduced him as one of the characters in his romance of Cecil Dreeme. In 1874, the private collection of the Duke of Montpensier, of Seville, Spain, was exhibited, giving the people of Boston their first opportunity to look upon a group of secondary examples of the great Spanish masters, including three Velasquezes, one Murillo, five Zurbarans, and one Ribera. Two of the Velasquezes were sketches for portraits in the Madrid gallery. The Murillo, which was considered wonderfully beautiful, had the place of honor in the gallery. Ribera’s Cato of Utica Tearing out his Entrails was a characteristic nightmare of the master who “ tainted his brush with all the blood of all the sainted.” Kaulbach’s cartoon of the Era of the Reformation was shown in the same exhibition. It was the study from which one of the six great frescos in the new museum at Berlin was painted. When the Museum of Fine Arts was opened, in 1876, the Athenæum deposited most of its works of art with the new institution as permanent loans, but retained in the Beacon Street building about forty paintings, which are mostly hung about the austere iron stairways, in a grievous light. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, by Thomas Cole, is a large painting, about ten by six feet, sombre, theatrical and heavy in style, illustrating these lines from St. Luke’s Gospel : “ And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them ; and they were sore afraid.” It is on the left of this composition that the heavens have opened, presumably, for beams of light radiate from that quarter, in the midst of which soars a rather woolly angel. The three shepherds are in the right foreground.

One of them prostrates himself and prays ; the second reclines on his elbow and shields his eyes with one hand, as if dazzled by the rays of celestial glory ; and the third stands, crook in hand, gazing awestruck at the wonderful vision. It is but too evident that the father of landscape - painting in America was not an adept in the art of figure-painting. In the left foreground are sheep and a dog; in the distance, at the right, a dark blue lake and mountains ; in the sky the star of Bethlehem, the radiations from which form a cross, which is reflected in the water beneath. Cole had high qualities as a landscapist, but this sort of work, though it had its admirers, was far from his true province, and, like the symbolic series, does not represent the sincerest and most admirable side of his art. Besides this work, there are but few paintings in the Athenæum which merit particular attention. Robert W. Weir’s Indian Captive is a composition of three life-size figures, dated 1839, which represents a dignified brave, a weeping squaw, and a pale-face in a costume of the period of Miles Standish, the Puritan captain, whose back is towards us, and who listens while the Indian describes his happy life in the wilderness, in the florid metaphors of the picturesque Fenimore Cooper redskin. Then there is a painting of Patrick Lyon the Blacksmith, painted in 1826 by John Neagle, who was the sonin-law of Sully and a native of Boston. Lyon was a rich man in Philadelphia, and when ordering this portrait he expressly directed that it should depict him at his forge. It was also by his desire that the cupola of the old Walnut Street jail, seen through a window in the background, was introduced, in memory of his unjust imprisonment there in 1798, on a charge of robbing the vaults of the Bank of Pennsylvania. There are a few portraits by Stuart and Harding, with three unimportant works by Allston, and some copies,— one Claude, one Murillo, and two Guidos, including a copy by Chatelaine of Guido’s famous picture in the Church of the Capuchins at Rome, The Archangel Michael Subduing and Chaining Satan.

For many years after it’s opening in 1826, the Athenæum continued to be the principal picture gallery of the town. In 1834, there was a special exhibition of a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which seems to have drawn out a good deal of learned comment. The loan exhibition of Allston’s works in 1839, to which allusion has been made, was held in “ Harding’s new gallery,” on School Street. The same gallery was the scene of the first three exhibitions of the Boston Artists’ Association, in 1842,1843, and 1844. This society had fifty members, and its first show contained one hundred and twenty paintings and twenty-seven miniatures. Allston was president, Colonel Henry Sargent vice-president, T. Buchanan Read secretary, and Henry Greenongh treasurer. Among the members were Chester Harding, D. C. Johnston, Joseph Ames, Francis Alexander, R. M. Staigg, Thomas Ball, George Hollingsworth, Thomas G. Appleton, A. G. Hoit, W. W. Story, Richard S. Greenough, William Sharp, Hammatt Billings, and George Fuller. The third exhibition consisted of one hundred and thirtythree paintings and fifteen miniatures, and comprised works by Allston, Alexander, Ames, Ball, Brackett, Brown (George L.), Cole (Thomas), Copley, Durand, Doughty, Fette (H. G.), Flagg, Fisher, Harding, Healy, Huntington, Hinckley, Ingham, Johnston, Morse, Neagle, Nutting, Rothermel, Read, Sully, Stuart, Weir, and Willard.

From 1844 to 1847 William Page (born 1811) lived in Boston, and painted some of the best portraits ever produced on American soil. It was his strongest period as a painter, and before he had begun to waste his time in theorizing and investigating as to how Titian painted and as to what was the true mask of Shakespeare. His half-length seated likeness of John Quincy Adams, in the Museum of Fine Arts, is a wellbalanced, easy, intellectual work, painted with a strong intuition of character. It is unmistakably an Adams portrait. The “ old man eloquent ” wears a white vest and a black coat, and holds a cane in one hand, the other lying upon the edge of a table. The quality of the flesh tones is uncommonly vital, sensitive, and transparent. The moist point of high light upon the broad forehead shines out as it were to mark the domicile of a statesman’s mind.

Page painted the portraits of many other famous sons of Massachusetts, among them Josiah Quincy, Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Wendell Phillips, President Eliot of Harvard College, and Colonel Robert G. Shaw. Several of these are in the Harvard Memorial Hall. The Quincy is in a ruined state, and looks as if some unskilled restorer had " skinned ” it; that is to say, cleaned off the glazes from its surface, leaving only the dead color. The twothirds-length portrait of Colonel Shaw in uniform is a singularly noble painting, presenting a type of American manhood of which Harvard and the country may well be proud. A young man, whose thoughtful face and prepossessing expression betray a generous and loyal nature, was fortunate in being painted by an artist who knew how to bring all his sound moral qualities to the surface. In this, as in the John Quincy Adams portrait, the flesh is marvelously painted, and seems alive. Page was one of the most picturesque characters of modern times. He lived in an ideal world, where Titian, Shakespeare, and Swedenborg were his constant comrades. The drawing of some of his heads was as fine as that of Hans Holbein or of Ingres. No painter has excelled him in penetration ; he saw beneath the surface of his subject with the clairvoyance of a modern Van Dyck. His worship of Titian enfeebled him, and his servile imitations of that master were of little worth compared with the strong portraits that he painted as a young man. Page’s friendships were strong and lasting. Lowell, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Browning were among his friends. “ He would burst into passionate recitations that almost carried you to heaven I ” said one who knew him. When he was a boy, Trumbull told him to " stick to the law,” but it is evident that he was conscious already of a strong natural bias for art, though he had also a great love of theology. In 1844, Lowell, dedicating his poems to Page, said: “ Sure I am that no nobler, gentler, or purer spirit than yours was ever appointed by the Eternal Beauty to bear that part of her divine message which it belongs to the great painter to reveal.”

The Boston Museum and Gallery of the Fine Arts, which had been established since 1841, moved to its present location in 1847, and opened a display of pictures by the old masters and by native artists, which still remains, in a dilapidated state, a permanent exhibition, reduced to the rank of a neglected and despised accessory to a theatre. The visitor who takes the pains to examine this collection of pictures finds them shrouded in a discreet Egyptian darkness by day and by night; it is to be feared that a stronger light might be even less becoming. The most prominent work is Thomas Sully’s immense historical painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. High up at the right of the composition Washington bestrides the white horse which Stuart found so fractious, and with which Sully has struggled in vain. On a lower plane, at the left, are troops and cannon, awaiting their turn to cross the stream. It is a winter night, cold and black. Snow covers the ground. The river and some vessels in the distance complete the scene. The work, in spite of its pretense, makes a weak impression, and has little merit. The subject was painted from another point of view by Leutze, whose picture became very well known by the engravings of it in school-books and on bank-notes. The circumstances under which Sully’s picture was painted were so peculiar as to make it worth while to recount them. The legislature of North Carolina commissioned him to paint two full-length portraits of Washington. In response, he proposed instead the painting of one historical picture, in which some prominent action of the hero should be represented, and suggested the crossing of the Delaware as a good subject. This amendment was agreed upon. The artist then wrote to ask about the dimensions of the place the painting was to occupy, and, failing to receive a reply, unwisely proceeded with the work on an enormous canvas. Years were spent in the effort, and when the picture was completed he was informed that there was no place fitted to receive it, and the painting was thrown upon his hands. Mr. Doggett presently bought it for five hundred dollars, and from his shop it passed into the possession of the Museum. Sully, who was of English birth, came to this country in 1792 as a boy, and lived successively in Charleston, Richmond, New York, and Philadelphia, where he was best known as a portrait-painter, and achieved a considerable degree of renown as the delineator of American beauties.

Under Sully’s Washington Crossing the Delaware hang two Dutch merrymakings ascribed to Teniers, of more than doubtful quality, and in a state of dissolution. Such examples might woo in vain “ your eyes to revel in a livelier sight.” Not far from one hundred portraits of eminent men — governors of Massachusetts, clergymen of Boston’s early days, and other public characters — are hung on the outside of the balustrades to the gallery, where it is absolutely impossible to see them except at a distance, whether from across the hall, from below, or from above. In the dim light of the interior, they all look very much alike and very commonplace. The Roman Daughter, by Rembrandt Peale, is among the best American productions in the collection, and fortunately it is in a better light than most of the other works. When this picture was first exhibited in Philadelphia, in 1812, a man named Svemin, the Russian viceconsul, asserted that it was a copy, and that he had seen the original in Paris. The charge caused a painful sensation, but when confronted with the necessity of proving his statement, the accuser did not hesitate to retract it. There is a portrait of David Rittenhouse, by Charles Wilson Peale, the father of Rembrandt Peale, who for many years was the leading artist of Philadelphia, painted many portraits of Washington, and founded a museum. A full-length portrait of John Adams when he was minister to Holland, by Winstanley, is valuable. This Winstanley is said to have counterfeited Stuart’s portraits, and Dunlap (volume i. page 394) says that he borrowed five hundred dollars from a Boston merchant, and gave him as security " an original Stuart,” which turned out to be no Stuart at all. There are also a good profile portrait of Charles Carroll, unsigned ; a replica or copy of Copley’s portrait of Nicholas Boylston ; and a damaged portrait of Lord Bolingbroke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Owing to its free and easy custom of treating copies as originals, the catalogue of 1847 throws but little light, on the collection. It contains the names of Breughel, Teniers, Verelst, Van Huysum, Berghem, Jan Steen, Cuyp, Van Ostade, Mieris, Ruysdael, and Wouvermans in the Dutch school ; of Vernet, Boucher, Mignard, Vanloo, Coypel, Poussin, and Rigaud in the French school; of Opie, Loutherbourg, Lely, West, Kneller, and Angelica Kauffman in the English school; of Guido Reni, Caracci, Bassano, and Salvator Rosa in the Italian school; and of Velasquez and Murillo in the Spanish school. A list like this should indicate an exhibition of chef d’œuvres, but it is extremely deceptive; and it is safe to say either that there is not an indubitable first-rate work in the gallery, or that if there be such an one it is in a state bordering upon ruin. The large proportion of still-life pictures in the Dutch manner may have included two or three good things in their prime. Mignard’s French Reaper, really a portrait of a woman, is a respectable performance. The Mad Woman in Chains and the Idiot Woman with Banner are works of art which are remarkable solely in view of the taste dictating the choice of subject; but they may be said to vie in interest with such efforts as The Battle between Absalom and the Israelites in the Wood of Ephraim, Susannah and the Elders, Jupiter depriving Hebe of the Cup, The Toilette of Venus, The Parting of Hector and Andromache, Orlando and Armedia, The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, or The Burning of William Penn’s Mansion House in Philadelphia, “painted by Jones.”

In 1852, the first exhibition of the New England Art Union was opened at No. 38 Tremont Row. The officers of the Union were : Edward Everett, president; Franklin Dexter and H. W. Longfellow, vice-presidents; James B. Gregerson, secretary ; James Lawrence, treasurer ; T. T. Spear, actuary ; with a board of directors composed of George S. Hillard, N. L. Frothingham, Benjamin S. Rotch, J. B. Gregerson, Edward C. Cabot, Albert G. Hoit, Ammi B. Young, Joshua H. Hayward, Charles Sumner, Jonathan Mason, Thomas G. Appleton, Chester Harding, C. G. Thompson, G. G. Smith, Joseph Andrews, and Alvan Fisher. The exhibitors in this exhibition were Ames, Ball, Barry, Babcock, Bellows, Carlton, Champney (B.), Codman, Cranch, Mrs. Dassell, Edwards, Fisher, Gay (W. Allan), Gerry, Hall, Hoit, Hunt (H. P.), Johnston, Kensett, Knight, Kurtz, Lane, Morrison, Nutting, Mrs. Oakes, Pope, Ransom, Scott, Spear, Stephenson, Wight, and Wilde. In spite of the fine list of distinguished officers, the first exhibition was also the last; at least we hear no more of the New England Art Union after 1852. One of the exhibitors, Albert F. Bellows, who was in an architect’s office in Boston three years after Allston’s death, became in later years, after a sojourn in Europe, identified with the Boston artists, though he did not remain long in his native State. He was one of the earliest American water-colorists. His sentiment was not deep, and his style was conscientious and niggling. He had facility and a taste for picturesque subjects, which accounted for much of his success. The world recognized him promptly, but he did not cut a deep swath, and it will doubtless be equally quick to forget him. The most skillful landscapist of the time was Joseph Morvillier, a native of the south of France, who came to Boston in 1852. He had been a fresco-painter in France, and had lived several years in England, where he made copies of pictures for the dealers. For more than twenty years he lived and painted here, exhibiting at Balch’s gallery. There is little to be said of him as an artist, for, although he possessed a fine sympathetic temperament, and was quick to perceive the most subtle phases of nature, he did not leave many works which are remarkable for their merit. Some of his smaller pictures, however, notably those of winter scenes, had some excellent qualities. Morvillier had an intense love for nature, but preferred its petty aspects. He was a minute observer, a good draughtsman, and an earnest student. To illustrate his impulsiveness, a friend said that “ he would lose a train to look at a fine sunset.” Another friend remarked of him that “ his surroundings chilled the artistic impulse of his soul, but death, perhaps, has set the bond free.” A gentleman who was looking at one of his pictures found fault with something in the distance which he could not make out. “ Oh ! ” said Morvillier, “ what for you crack your eye to see what is in the deestance ? ” At another time he said to a brother artist, “ Tom, you have a house. I wish I had a house.” “ What do you want of a house ? ” was asked. “ When I wanted money I could raise such a fine mortgage.” Hammatt Billings, between 1850 and 1865, was accounted the best illustrator and one of the best designers in the country. His critical judgment in all things pertaining to the arts was admirable, and he had enriched a naturally artistic temperament by extensive reading. In a word, he was essentially an artist. His colored illustrations of Biblical episodes were gorgeous and theatrical. In his pictures designed to illustrate the poems of Keats and Tennyson he displayed a refined imagination. But circumstances were against him, and probably there is but little of his work that would stand the critical test of to-day.

Three years after the Art Union’s exhibition the Boston Art Club was organized, with about a score of members, who at first met in a small studio at No. 24 Tremont Row. Joseph Ames was president, and Alfred Ordway secretary. A joint exhibition with the Athenæum proved profitable, and enabled the club to fit out some rooms in Bedford Street, and to open a second exhibition, from which four pictures were stolen, an incident which demonstrates that there must have been some “ art lovers ” in those days. Subsequently the club undertook the direction of a course of lectures at the Tremont Temple, a venture which resulted disastrously, and left the organization in debt. At the instigation of Miss Sarah Clarke, Fanny Kemble gave a reading for the club’s benefit, which cleared off the debt and left a small surplus. Then the young society led a precarious existence for several years, gave up its quarters, and narrowly escaped dying a natural death. The civil war had broken out, absorbing all thoughts and interests. It was in the midst of this epoch of excitement and turmoil that William Morris Hunt came to Boston, on his return from his studies in France.

His advent marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Boston art. A painter of rare gifts, he had the uncommon faculty of communicating to others his own noble ardor and devotion to the artist’s ideal. Hunt was a born painter, with the susceptible and moody temperament of a man of genius. His works are full of impulsiveness, but this feeling is happily counterbalanced by a large and classical quality. A thoroughly sincere worshiper of the great Venetian masters, he was able to imbibe much of the spirit of their decorative works, — herein is an implication of great capacity,—and later he became the earliest advocate and champion of Jean François Millet in the New World. Hunt made some superb portraits, many devoted friends, and of course some enemies. He passed many unhappy hours in Boston, and said some caustic things (just enough, too) about persons presumed to be connoisseurs, and about the general state of the art here ; but he did incalculable service, because his indomitable energy and pure enthusiasm in the pious cause came at a time when the field was white for the harvest. All the art students were inspired by him, and the artists thronged about him with hearty sympathy and admiration. The essence of a subject absorbed him; he did not consider the surface alone : hence his success as a portraitist. It was, perhaps, the same quality of mind that caused him to turn from Couture to Millet. He preferred touching the heart to tickling the fancy. The fact that Boston was prompt to recognize the best modern art was due to the teaching of Hunt more than to any other cause. His own art was imbued with the modern spirit. He raised the art standard; he dignified the profession, and caused art to be respected as it had not been since Allston’s day. Admirable as Hunt’s own art was, our greatest debt to him is because he hastened here the recognition and appreciation of the true and the noble in the art of others. It was his pioneer work that led Boston early to applaud Vedder and Lafarge, and he made the way easy for such young students, fresh from Paris, as J. Foxcroft Cole, Thomas Robinson, A. H. Bicknell. “There are a good many people in Boston,” Hunt said to a fellowartist, “ who would like to do something for art, but the trouble is to agree as to what is good art. Now, it is our duty to teach them, and not to allow them to tell us what is what in art.” He concluded a long talk about the advantages of living in the midst of the best art by saying, with an oath, “ Do you suppose that, unless it were necessary, I would stay in this country and rot ? ” “I have no doubt,” he added, “ that there are people who can he devilish jolly walled up in snow and ice, but I am not one of that kind.” Was he girding at the physical or social climate, or both ?

Hunt is nobly represented in the Museum of Fine Arts by a group of pictures which comprises his Prodigal Son, Girl at the Fountain, Girl Reading, and the study for the figure of Fortune. In the deeply touching painting of the Prodigal Son, he showed, better than in any other work, his greatness of spirit. It is a life-size group of three figures, handsomely composed. The son, in an agony of shame and penitence, is hiding his face upon his father’s breast. His only garment is a shirt of rudely fashioned hides. His impulsive movement is described with marked felicity. The old man, raising up his child, lifts his eyes heavenward, revealing by his look the whole pathetic story of his patient waiting, now past, his pardon, and his great love. This venerable head, so much alive and so full of significance, is indescribably fine. The third figure, in blue, at the left, and a little removed, remains an indifferent spectator of the meeting. All the elements that go to the making of a good work of art are present in this canvas, which does Hunt the highest honor. He never excelled it in point of imaginative insight and sincerity of feeling. The influence of Couture and his “ method ” is to be discerned in the slightly mealy textures of the flesh, though this is not offensive.

The Girl at the Fountain is a slim and comely maid in a brown gown and a white cap, holding in her right hand an earthen jug, into which the water is flowing from the mouth of a carven female head set in a yellowish - white stone wall. She places her left hand against the wall to support her weight, as she leans forward, her back being turned towards us, so that but a glimpse is possible of her pretty profile. The pose is natural, easy, unconventional, and not without grace. A little bit of distant landscape is visible at the left, with tree-tops, a hillside, and a blue and white sky, which is delightfully colored. Over everything, in this lovely picture, is the warm amber veil of the southern sunshine, a tone of unspeakable beauty. The Girl Reading is a charming auburnhaired damsel, in a costume consisting of a gray skirt and a white waist, with a very effective touch of orange and blue to relieve it, all set against a brown background. She is really reading, and not shamming. In Hunt’s pictures one does not perceive the professional model. The study of the semi-nude figure of Fortune, for the panel entitled The Discoverer, in the Albany Capitol, represents a woman, who holds in her left hand the tiller of the discoverer’s bark, and in her uplifted right hand a piece of flowing drapery, which fills with wind like a sail. The lines are full of harmony and grace ; the subject is largely and classically conceived; and to have done such work as this the artist must have studied the Venetians, and deeply appreciated their genius. It is ideal in the fullest sense of the word, — as much so as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.

Hunt was president of an artists’ association known as the Allston Club, which while it lasted was the only artistic society worthy of the name in Boston ; for, as we have noticed, the Art Club was in a moribund condition at that time. The roll of members of the Allston Club, which, despite the brevity of its existence, deserves a prominent place in our annals, included the names of Hunt, Ames, Bicknell, Cole, Fisher (Mark), Furness, Gay (W. Allan), Lafarge, Robinson, Smith (Frank Hill), Vedder, and Williams (Virgil). Almost all of these artists had been studying in France, and were among the first American painters to feel, and in their turn to disseminate, the new and potent influences which have been ever since such important factors in the development of American art. The purchase of Courbet’s The Quarry was the solitary but glorious achievement of the Allston Club’s brief career. How it came about I shall relate when I refer to the picture. All of Hunt’s associates in this club are living except Ames, Furness, Robinson, and Williams. Furness, who was a son of the well-known clergyman, died young. He lived in Boston from 1865 to 1867, and painted some excellent portraits. He was an accomplished gentleman as well as an able artist, and Hunt often praised his work. Among his male portraits were those of Sumner and Emerson, but he painted more women than men, and had the rare faculty of pleasing his female sitters without flattery.

Tom Robinson (born in Nova Scotia, 1835; died in Providence, R. I., 1888) was a painter of landscapes and animals, — a man whose strong and exceptional qualities as an artist, whose remarkable acquaintance with and appreciation of ancient and modern art, whose personal generosity and sympathetic spirit, not only made him a unique and imposing figure in the records of Boston art, but especially endear his memory to his associates. He was a disciple and ardent admirer of Gustave Courbet. His paintings of animals, besides being drawn with great spirit, deep and rich in color, and having other essential qualities of sound workmanship to recommend them, bring to the surface in a very striking and beautiful way the most lovable and noble characteristics of the brute creation. He was particularly fond of horses and cows, though he painted many pictures of dogs, cats, and other domestic animals as well. He surrendered himself to his subject, with an ingenuous feeling not often observed in modern art. There is evidence of entire sincerity in his lightest as well as in his most serious work. Many of his early productions were portraits of horses, painted in a precise, careful manner, smoothly finished, accurate but somewhat tight, and already revealing the painter’s eye for color. As he developed, under the influence of such masters as Géricault, Delacroix, Troyon, and Courbet, his palette became more varied and brilliant, his brushing bolder and looser ; but though there is a general resemblance to the French school in his works, he never could be charged with imitation, for up to the very last he gained as much in originality as in power, reposing more and more on nature. The most striking characteristic of his landscapes is their rude grandeur. The wholesome and invigorating odor of the very earth seems to rise from his rugged foregrounds, and in contemplating his solemn distances and breezy skies one receives an inspiring impression of the expansive greatness of nature. Most of his work in this domain was done on the shores of Narragansett Bay, one of the most beautiful regions of this beautiful New England. Clear in atmosphere, fine in color and tone, of a broad and vigorous style, Robinson’s landscapes would lose little or nothing by comparison with the best examples of the greatest painters. There is in some rustic scenes a sort of homely beauty, so to speak, which made its appeal to him with special urgency, and this quality he expressed with something of Courbet’s own manly power.

The man was, in many respects, like his works. “ Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,” with his bluff, hearty, out-door maimers and his vociferous style of conversation, he reminded one of a typical old sailor. His breadth of view and of experience was wonderful, and his cordial enthusiasm for all that is great in art amounted to a ruling passion. He constantly edified his friends by the aptness and brilliancy of his comments on people and affairs. When he was thoroughly aroused, it was a rare treat to hear him talk, in that eccentric, gorgeously colored language which belonged to him alone, packed with picturesque figures of speech and magnificent superlatives. At such times he would stride up and down the room, with his hands buried in his trousers pockets, and occasionally, groping for words emphatic enough to suit his thought, he would fall into a hopeless verbal slough, emerging invariably with a “ You know what I mean! ” He was a remarkable authority in all that relates to the art of painting, his acquaintance with the history of the art being profound and his memory prodigious. Hunt was very fond of him, and highly appreciated his genius. During the last years of Robinson’s life he became a picture merchant, and, in partnership with Mr. S. M. Vose, of Providence, he went abroad in the capacity of an expert, and bought many paintings and studies of the French school which now hang in some of the most artistic private collections of this country, and testify eloquently to his rare judgment and instinct. After his death, in March, 1888, a collection of one hundred and sixtysix of his works was sold at auction for a total sum of a little more than ten thousand dollars, an average price of about sixty dollars each. At this sale, a small group of generous persons, who felt that some public recognition of such an artist was due, bought his Ploughing, and gave it to the Museum of Fine Arts. This painting has something of the sober simplicity of a good Millet. From left to right four sturdy, patient oxen drag the plough, under the guidance of a phlegmatic farmer. The fallow field rises easily to the near horizon. The foreground is rich with the dark, moist, freshly upturned earth. The action of the oxen, as they force the unwilling ploughshare deeply through the heavy soil, is described with admirable truth. The characteristic traits of the animals are set forth by a hand somewhat heavy, it is true, but moved by the friendliest feeling of appreciation for their wonderful meekness of spirit and physical might. They are invested with true dignity. The strength, unity, and healthy simplicity of the impression are altogether exceptional. Though the mechanical execution is a trifle halting, the color is deep, warm, and of a good honest quality ; the oxen’s splendid lustrous hides, the rich reddish-brown dirt in the furrow, the wide expanse of field and sky, all " exist ” under the same atmosphere, as solid, glowing realities.

After Tom Robinson, the list of Hunt’s contemporaries contains no better name than that of John B. Johnston, who died in 1886. He was a son of D. C. Johnston, the caricaturist, and younger brother of Thomas Johnston, who, after giving the most brilliant promise as a painter, died too soon to fulfill the hopes aroused by his early performances. John B. Johnston was a genius, whose small studies of cows were equal in color and characterization to Troyon’s work. He produced but few pictures, working slowly and with great care, and devoted much time to teaching. He made an exhibition of his works in 1882, and another exhibition was held in 1887, under the auspices of the Paint and Clay Club, which proved him to be a painter of uncommon powers. His largest composition was a group of Cattle on the Quincy Shore. His perception of color was extraordinary, and his love of animals was as cordial as that of Géricault, who was one of his idols. He was fond of telling about his first visit to the Louvre, when, ignorant of the regulations and unable to speak French, he was so fascinated by Géricault’s little picture of a horserace that he climbed over the rail so as to examine the work more closely, and vastly scandalized the worthy custodian of the gallery. It must have been amusing to hear Johnston, in his good-natured way, explaining the matter in English, while the official poured forth a flood of reproaches in the best of French, and neither of them understood the other. Johnston was absurdly modest about his works, and had a strange want of confidence in himself. He never finished a painting, in the ordinary sense of the verb, feeling that he would lose more than he could gain after passing a given point. The landscapes which serve as the backgrounds for his cattle-pieces are merely blocked in, suggested by a few sweeping strokes, but with surprising justness. He gave great physical weight and moral character to his cows ; reproduced the affluent color and textures of their hides in sunlight and in shade with a degree of truth seldom equaled by any painter save Troyon alone. The few lines subjoined, expressive of his feelings in relation to pictures, were kindly given to me by his sister, Miss S. J. F. Johnston, herself an artist: “ Many pictures that I have seen,” he wrote, “ though excellent in many respects, fail to move me. I hate, when I first look at a picture, to feel its construction. Nature is so alive, you see its beauty before you realize that it has any construction. The pictures that I really enjoy impress me when I first look at them in the same manner as does nature. I feel the life, the beauty, and afterwards realize that they are studied, planned, in fact built, upon the soundest principles of art and nature.” Johnston, however, was a man much more given to practice than preaching ; and none may know the beauty of his life who cannot read it in his pictures. He is worthily represented in the Museum of Fine Arts by his New-Born Calf and a Landscape with Cattle. The former is generally regarded as his masterpiece. The calf lies sprawling on the ground, and its mother, standing over it, lowers her head, and passes her tongue tenderly over the limp little creature’s pretty white and red coat. A black heifer stands near by, and contemplates with interest this domestic scene. Just beyond the trio are a gate and a group of trees. The picture is very beautiful in color. It illustrates the absolute originality and soundness of Johnston’s observation, and the extreme sensibility of his temperament. In none of his other works do we find so much of a subject, and the lovely way in which he has treated this little farmyard idyl of helpless infancy and maternal affection goes far to prove that he could not have failed to meet with great success had he chosen to enter the domain of illustrative painting. He had, however, an exaggerated disdain for “ popular subjects,” and used to ridicule unmercifully a certain English print of a namby-pamby milkmaid leading home a pair of unnaturally clean Jerseys, which at one time had a great run in the shop-windows. The Landscape with Cattle is a good specimen of the sort of composition he most liked: it represents simply a group of four cows in a sunny meadow. One of the cows, white with red marks, lies on the greensward in full sunlight. The other three (two red and one black) stand in the shade of a tree, close to a stone fence. The lighting is extraordinary: it is as if the real, hot, blinding sunshine were beating down upon the field ; and as for the cows yonder in the shade, it requires hut a minimum of imagination to see the regular wagging of their jaws and the incessant switching of their busy tails.

Not far from the time when Hunt came to Boston, the fine color and delicate poetic feeling of some landscapes painted by Richard H. Fuller suddenly attracted attention to their author, and it was learned that he was a night watchman in Chelsea, who had begun to paint pictures after he had passed the age of thirty, without having received any regular instruction. He had been a cigar-maker before becoming a watchman. The artists welcomed him to their democratic ranks, and he derived much aid and comfort from association with those of them who had studied in France. From the first he was captivated by Lambinet, whose method and scheme of color he absorbed, as is more or less evident in all his canvases. He never attempted, however, to finish like Lambinet, nor to get the deep tones of Daubigny, for he was not exactly a “ slavish copyist,” and he infused some of his own personality in all his landscapes. He was extremely susceptible to impressions, and had a fine natural appreciation of art: but he painted little directly from nature, nor did he ever know what it was to try to paint any object closely. He was conscious of his own limitations, and was keen if not profound. His pictures were first exhibited in 1863, and during the winter of 1864 he exhibited for the first time in company with the Boston artists. One day Fuller was in a studio with several painters, and one of them mentioned Phidias. " Who’s he ? ” asked Fuller. The wag of the party gravely informed him that Phidias was a distinguished New York alderman. Instantly perceiving by the expression in the faces of the others that he was being made a butt, Fuller said sadly, “ Boys, how should I know ? Everything here is new to me.” Early in 1865 a dealer engaged to find a market for all the pictures that Fuller should produce. On this he retired from the night watch of Chelsea, and thenceforth devoted all his time to painting. His progress in the art and in the public favor was rapid and uninterrupted to the end of his brief career, in 1871. There is an upright landscape by him in the Museum of Fine Arts, which gives a very fair idea of his talent. It pictures a rural roadway, by the side of which are some poplars on a slope, and, farther away, a cottage, of which only the gable is seen. The sky is pale blue and white.

Another of Hunt’s contemporaries was William Rimmer. Although he was, first and foremost, a sculptor, he painted a few pictures, in which the color was invariably bad. His perfect knowledge of the human figure and his unique vein of fancy made his pictures valuable, in spite of this capital defect. His biographer, T. H. Bartlett, has admitted that “ in none of his efforts is the want of a surrounding world of art so apparent as in his struggles with color, in which he gained no reputation.” His paintings were exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1880, and three years later at a down-town gallery. Rimmer was a strange genius, whose art was his religion; but he felt that he was not understood, and was naturally made melancholy by want of appreciation and sympathy. Hamilton G. Wilde, an artist who had lived long abroad, and whose Italian street scenes, genres, and architectural pictures were at one time popular, and were considered to be rich in color; George N. Cass, a landscapist who derived some reputation from his association with George Inness ; and Alonzo Hartwell, at first a woodengraver, afterwards a portrait-painter, who turned his attention to painting late in life, and who did some excellent work, — these may be mentioned among the names of those painters who have passed away.

George Fuller (1822-1884) was an artist who had something to say, and, in spite of the vast obstacles imposed by a neglected education, said it with a native eloquence which went straight to all hearts. Perhaps no American painter, so ill equipped as he in respect to the control of his means of expression, has accomplished so much by virtue of an intense desire to deliver his message. It was a pity that such a man should unduly despise the grammatical part of his calling. In his ambition to appeal directly to the intellectual and moral faculties, he should never have forgotten for an instant that the painter’s sole road to these is through the eyes. Faults of drawing and of color in a picture of the loveliest sentiment may not be ignored, and the loftiest flights of ideality must be embodied in acceptable form. Fuller’s manner was peculiarly well adapted to his purposes, but it was pushed to extremes, and sometimes became a mannerism. It was not affected, for it suited him, and was doubtless the only manner possible to him. His figures were enveloped in a golden haze, which removed them from too close scrutiny, and gave them the aspect of vague visions, apparitions of a waking dream. Nothing could have been more tentative and laborious than the processes by which he produced his works. He did quite as much erasing and scraping as he did actual painting. He sought persistently an original ideal of beauty. In the Winifred Dysart and the Romany Girl are found its best expressions: but the picture he never painted was more gracious than all the others. There is, however, a kind of inward beauty in these works, which is unique and of his own creation. The Winifred Dysart is a perfect embodiment of innocence, youth, and sweet American girlhood. In the Romany girl, there is a marvelous realization of the strange, wild character of the race, an aroma of bewitching outlawry. These two figures exemplify in different ways Fuller’s highest power of expression. There is something very fine about his Head of a Boy, in the Museum of Fine Arts, which is a representative work in portraiture. Its color is opulent and warm, and its sentiment remarkably personal. It has what may be called the characteristic look of the sitter, and shows that Fuller had “a moral sense,” as Hazlitt says, to guide him in making an intelligent copy of the labyrinth of shifting muscles and features which go to the making up of the human face. Although the artist’s fame does not rest upon his portraits so much as upon his ideal figures, it is by no means certain that he ever executed anything better, at all events in a technical sense, than this head. It has an unobtrusive but unmistakable presence, and is of a sort that is sure to grow upon the observer. There is something of the same intellectual and moral force here that makes itself felt in the portraits by the old masters, though in less degree and with less command over the means of expression. The Arethusa, also in the Museum of Fine Arts, was one of the last works painted by Fuller, and the only picture in which he attempted to represent the nude figure. It portrays the nereid celebrated in Shelley’s poem, who, fleeing from the river-god, was transformed into a fountain. Fuller has embodied her as a life-size blonde nymph, half reclining by a spring, and dipping one hand in the water. She is young and pretty, graceful and innocent. She dwells in a fine old Sicilian wood, peopled by beings as fabulous as herself, — a shadowy realm of perpetual twilight, with indications of a winding stream and distant figures. The figure of Arethusa is painted with a strong feeling for truth of color, and the flesh tones are very transparent and melting. It has the quality known as “ morbidezza,” and looks to be sensitive, as if it were glowing with life. The outlines are lost, and the figure is somewhat veiled, as by a warm-colored atmosphere drawn about it. The drawing is weak in several parts ; in some other details it is excellent.

Fuller’s imperfections, then, are obvious enough, but, as was said of Reynolds in his day, he made up for them by a feeling of harmony and beauty. It is too early now to say positively whether his influence is to be an important factor in our native art; but thus far he has had few imitators, and his art was not of a kind to inspire copyists. It is probable that in the annals of American painters he will always stand alone, and that his name will be all the more cherished because of this isolation.

William Howe Downes.