The Columbian Exposition and American Civilization
WHEN a few practical men of affairs, capitalists, bank presidents, manufacturers, merchants, lawyers, were deputed, three years ago, by their fellow-citizens of Chicago, to formulate a scheme for the celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the landing of Columbus in the western hemisphere by an International Exposition of all the arts and sciences, to be held in that city, it is not probable that they had seriously in mind anything so chimerical as the establishment of a great movement of civilization. Common sense is not apt to work upon any such visionary lines. The elements which gave shape and force to the preliminary consultations were not of a kind to dream of a propaganda of social ideas. And yet, if these gentlemen had deliberately contemplated some such revolutionary proposition as this, their action could not have been more wisely directed to the achievement of this very end.
The progress of civilization is by slow processes of development, in which it is difficult to detect any recognizable points of departure, any definite initial force. These processes are usually growths from seed planted at no especial date, at no easily found place, and by no especial person or persons. They are evolutions out of the dark into the light, and their character is controlled by the genius of races, by influences of environment, and by accidents of history. It may not be difficult, however, to prove that in the age of Pericles, in the Italian Cinquecento, in the defection of Luther, in the court of Queen Elizabeth, may be found four of these points of departure. In the Columbian Exposition we are probably destined to see a fifth, which, for reasons not hard to give, may perhaps be more definite and recognizable than any of the others.
It is now generally conceded that the choice of Chicago, instead of New York, as the seat of this Exposition, has already been fully justified by its results. New York is the commercial metropolis of the country, and, like London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and Philadelphia, the seats of previous Expositions, is in the midst of a thickly populated region, enjoying all the fruitions of an elaborate civilization, more or less familiar with and influenced by the best achievements of mankind in every department of human effort, with established institutions of higher culture, with galleries and schools of art, museums, monuments, and all the incitements of a complicated and ordered social life. Under such circumstances, centres like these can hardly be as impressionable as the Western metropolis. The distinction may be clearly drawn that in the former the Exposition was in each case rather emulative than instructive ; in the latter it will prove more instructive than emulative.
Chicago is the nucleus of a vast interior country, newly occupied by a prosperous people, who are without local traditions; who have been absorbed in the development of its virgin resources; and who are more abounding in the outof-door energies of life, more occupied by the practical problems of existence, more determined in their struggle for wealth and knowledge, than any people who ever lived. This nation within a nation is not unconscious of its distance from the long-established centres of the world’s highest culture, but it is full of the sleepless enterprise and ambitions of youth ; it has organized power, natural ability, quickened apprehensions, and rapidly increasing wealth; it knows its need of those nobler ideals and higher standards which are of such difficult access to a people engaged in the comparatively coarse work of laying the foundations and raising the solid walls of material prosperity. The new nation is now ready to adorn this great fabric, to complete and refine it, and to fit it for a larger life and a wider usefulness. It is like a machine, which requires only those more delicate creative touches necessary to bring its complicated adjustments into perfect working condition, so that it may become effective as a part of the civilizing energy of our time. Books, lectures, and all the apparatus of schools and colleges are meanwhile doing their work in this field.
The most distinctive social feature of Western town life, as compared with that of the East, is the frank earnestness with which these conscious people are seeking for a higher life, and trying to repair the defects of an education less liberal than their present conditions demand. Every town, every village, has its societies for mutual improvement. Grown men and women, in all the grades of social life, go to school again in their clubs, and study history, art, science, literature, with the same energy and enthusiasm which they apply to the accumulation of wealth. University extension is not a diversion, but a most serious occupation. Their organized efforts to realize and comprehend, by literature, prints, and photographs, what is meant by the great achievements in painting, sculpture, and architecture — often with most insufficient means — are pathetic, but most significant of the expectant, awaiting condition of the Western mind. The people of the East and of the Old World can have no comprehension of the eagerness and sincerity with which the West is pursuing, under many difficulties, the study of better culture.
All this slow-working machinery would in due time, of course, unaided, and without the interposition of some such great demonstration of the arts and sciences as will be furnished by the Columbian Exposition, accomplish the work of transition, and the West would presently find itself playing its due part in giving not only grain and cattle, but “ sweetness and light,” to the rest of the world.
If it were possible to include, in a history of the International Expositions, a correct statement of the influences exerted by them over the industries of the world, it would be found that each furnished a forward impetus of its own to all those elements which make up the civilization of the epoch. When any nation on these great arenas of emulation gave evidence of superior attainments in any art or science, in any production of hand or brain, it gave also to the other nations the most powerful incentive to emulate and to surpass the model. If the great Panhellenic festivals served continually to advance the standard of manly virtues among the Greeks, and to keep in constant and productive tension all their best capacities for moral and mental effort, the modern industrial Expositions have done much more for civilization, and on a much higher scale of human endeavor. The intervals between these Expositions have been Olympiads in the history of our times, in which all the energies of the nations have been exerted to secure the solidarity and progress of the race, and, by a constant advancement of the standards of emulation, to keep the various branches of the human family fairly abreast. The first London Exposition, for example, surprised the English people into a realization of their inferior rank in the fine arts, and in all those industries in which art is an element of production. The whole nation was immediately stimulated by a noble zeal to remedy its proved deficiencies, and subsequent Expositions showed how the wholesome lesson had been taken to heart, and with what success the new standards of achievement were reached.
The Exposition of 1893 will have a similar work to do in this country; but the field over which it has to exert its beneficent influences is a very different field from that of England, France, Austria, Italy, Germany, or even our own Eastern seaboard, of which Philadelphia was the centre in the centennial year. Here it will do far more than merely to supplement the slow but sure and steady function of schools and universities, societies and museums, in the work of civilization ; it will not only anticipate this function in time, and give to the progress of the nation, especially of the West, a sudden and mighty forward impulse, which will be felt for generations, but its influence will have an infinitely wider range than could possibly result from the efforts of any number of institutions of liberal or technical training. The Exposition will furnish to our people an object lesson of a magnitude, scope, and significance such as has not been seen elsewhere. They will for the first time be made conscious of the duties, as yet unfulfilled, which they themselves owe to the civilization of the century. They will learn from the lessons of this wonderful pageant that they have not as yet taken their proper, place in the world ; that there is something far better worth doing than the mere acquiring and spending of wealth ; that the works of their hands, their products, their manufactures, are not necessarily the best in the world ; that their finer arts are in nearly every respect deficient in finish and in aim; that, with all their acknowledged ingenuity in the manipulation and manufacture of the coarser staples and products, there are, perhaps, foreign methods more certain, more economical, or productive of better results; that in various departments of finer manufactures, in furniture, in the weaving of cottons, linens, silks, woolens, velvets, and in the designing of the more delicate fabrics, in machinery of all sorts, possibly in implements, certainly in educational appliances, and wherever science or art in its best sense has been adapted to industrial uses, there is much to be learned from the older nations ; that tariffs alone and all the other political devices of protection cannot, in another century of exclusion, bring their productions to a parity with those of countries whose industries are governed only by the natural laws of supply and demand. They will discover that in painting, in sculpture, in music, they have scarcely begun to appreciate, much less to produce, objects of fine art; and that, by cultivating the arts which are not practically useful, their lives may be made much better worth living, more fruitful, more full of real enjoyment, and larger in every respect. They will be suddenly confronted by new ideals and inspired by higher ambitions ; they will find in themselves qualities hitherto unsuspected, capacities for happiness and powers of production hitherto unknown. They will obtain, in short, a higher standard by which to measure their own shortcomings and deficiencies; and if, in some lines of human effort, they are themselves able to set up standards higher than the rest of the world, and find that in these things the world must come to them to be taught, they will realize that in most other respects they are in a position of pupilage.
Such a realization by such a people will bear fruit, not in the apathy of mortification and defeat, but in that condition of noble discontent which carries with it its own speedy correction. Every mechanic who, on visiting the Exposition, discovers that his fellow-workers in England, or France, or Germany, or Italy, or Turkey, or China, or Japan, have shown, with the same materials, better workmanship, or accomplished nobler results of beauty or fitness, than he has yet dreamed of, will no longer be satisfied with his old ideals. Every workshop, factory, laboratory, and studio in the land will be conscious of a new impulse. It will be impossible for any man, woman, or child, capable of receiving impressions, to visit this great treasury of all the industries of hand and brain without being quickened with new energies. The low routines of life will be broken by a spirit of reform. New shoots will be grafted on the old homely but vigorous stock; and the fruitage should have a larger and more vigorous growth, if there is any virtue left in that native force of character which is making a family of commonwealths in the wild prairies of the West.
We may, indeed, in the midst of these surprises, comfort ourselves with the assurance that the most remarkable of all the exhibits to be shown the foreigner in this year will be the spectacle of the new nation, in the midst of which is placed its precious but transient jewel, the Columbian Exposition. And yet, in a vast region of this wild country which it is subjecting to its uses, — a country already with abundant population, increasing wealth, and vast resources as yet undeveloped, — there are practically no museums or galleries of art equipped to teach great lessons in a great way, and but few public libraries, none of the higher manufactures, little to stimulate imagination or refine life, no high ideals, no standards of delicate or difficult workmanship in products of art. Daily life here is narrowed and imagination is sterilized by the dreary repetitions of mercantile or agricultural employment. Education, among the greater part of the population, is limited to the elements which may be acquired in the common schools, and to the doubtful influence of newspapers and periodicals. Many lives are begun and finished without seeing a work of good art, in painting, sculpture, or architecture; without being aroused from the apathy of a dull and colorless existence by any object lesson in the higher regions of human effort. The farmers and their families, the ranchmen, the stock-raisers, who form so large a part of the population, are isolated from the centres of moral and intellectual life, and are so engrossed in the occupations of the soil that they are unconscious of their higher capacities, and have absolutely nothing to stimulate their mental energies or awaken their dormant faculties. When they have gathered wealth, they have no idea how to use it to the best advantage. They are hungry for knowledge.
Thus the field is fallow, but full of immense possibilities. In the midst of it, the managers of the Columbian Exposition are gathering together from the wide world examples of the best and noblest results of thought and workmanship in every department of activity and enterprise, and establishing ideals and standards far beyond the dreams of most of their fellow-citizens ; they are, in fact, creating a university, open to all, where the courses of instruction cover all the arts and sciences, and are so ordered that to see is to learn. They are installing the objects which are to illustrate these courses, not within mere shelters or sheds, devised only to facilitate classification and arrangement, but in monuments of art, representing in themselves, individually and collectively, the best and highest uses of the art of architecture. No university was ever so majestically housed. The courses relating to mechanics, agriculture, manufactures, and the liberal arts, electricity, mining, transportation. horticulture, the fisheries, the fine arts, the science of government, history, and all the other branches of learning, are each set forth in a palace, in which architecture, sculpture, and painting have combined to make it fit for its high service. In its adornments every artisan will find his own occupation idealized, and will read in its friezes the names of those of his fellow-workmen who have, in the practice of his own art or trade, made themselves illustrious in the history of the world. When the visitor enters the great Court, he will find himself cloistered as never scholar was cloistered before. No philosopher or disciple of the Academy ever walked and meditated in such porches. The great Basin in the midst, with its tributary canals, the terraces and balustrades which surround it, the statues, the monumental fountains, the vases, the bridges, the standards, the rostral columns, the gardens, the kiosks and shelters, are arranged to show that order is heaven’s first law. To walk in these grounds will be in itself an education, as well as a pleasure of the most ennobling sort. The whole is on a scale of beauty and magnificence far beyond what the greatest masters of art have provided for emperors and kings. The gateway and vestibule of this university introduce the scholars to a new world.
When Congress settled the question of the location of the World’s Fair by preferring Chicago to New York, it was feared that, among a people so little accustomed to demonstrations of high art, the enterprise would take upon itself some of the characteristics of “ the greatest show on earth,” and that our refined taste would be shocked by a vain display of cheap and vulgar pretense in the buildings. Our reputation as a worthy member of the great community of civilized nations was at stake before the world, and Chicago as yet had done little to give confidence in its ability or desire to make such a use of its great opportunity as would reflect credit and honor upon the republic. Our natural tendency to outdo all other nations by bigness and height rather than by quality of art, to astonish them with novelties of structure and audacities of design rather than to challenge them with carefully studied and scholarly compositions in the academic field, where they had ever been our masters, would here, apparently, have the fullest demonstration. That the Fair would in any respect of art compare with the last Exposition at Paris was hardly to be expected. Of course, it was inevitable that we should have a tower to overtop the masterpiece of Eiffel, a dome to cover a far wider area than that of Vienna, an egg of Columbus bigger and uglier than that of Genoa, and other unspeakable devices of audacious ingenuity, to astonish the vulgar and make the judicious grieve. But the managers of the Exposition, supported by the sympathy and indomitable public spirit of the youngest, most energetic and ambitious of the great capitals of the world, and by the official sanction of a powerful nation, and, more especially, in the use of these aids and of the wealth which was poured into their treasury, being wisely guided by the counsel of the ablest available specialists in the choice and the laying out of the grounds, in the design and construction of the buildings, in their decoration and completion by sculpture and painting, in the innumerable difficulties of engineering presented by the drainage, the water and gas supply, and the distribution of power and light by electricity, in the sanitary and police equipment, and in all the other complicated services of this enterprise,— these putative Philistines of the New World have developed and carried into execution a scheme which, not only in scale, but in those qualities of artistic excellence and refinement which were least expected of them, is acknowledged to surpass even the great triumphs of the Exposition of 1889. The cost of the vast structures of the “ White City ” has been more than doubled by their architectural form and decorative envelopes. If these forms of art had been called into existence simply as visible manifestations of the wealth, pride, and culture of the country, and as expressions of its noble and lavish hospitality to the nations of the world, it would have been well to count the cost with nicer economy; but, as object lessons to the people, raised to educate them and to arouse their higher consciousness, the managers, without hesitation, considered that they should not withhold their hands until the ideal had been made concrete and palpable in the buildings at Jackson Park, at whatever expenditure of treasure and thought. They have done more : they have successfully resisted the introduction upon the grounds of every device of mere astonishment, — of any feature, indeed, not commended by its practical character or by its quality of art. The irrepressible crank has laid before them a hundred monstrous schemes, but has obtained no foothold within the limits of the Exposition. He must be content to expatiate with his wild vagaries outside the inviolate boundaries.
Possibly, the very best and noblest lesson given to the New World by the Fair is the spectacle presented of the happy results secured through the concert of the fine arts in its great buildings. It is due largely to the indomitable zeal of Mr. D. H. Burnham, the Chief of Construction, to his enthusiastic love of art, to his wide experience in architectural enterprises on a large scale, to the force of his personality, and to his sound judgment, that, setting aside all personal interests and all local prejudices, men of the highest ability in every department of art, summoned from all parts of the country, gladly came to his assistance, and that these men worked together in a spirit of mutual concession, — a spirit never vitiated or weakened by any shadow of jealousy, in all their trying and complicated collaboration, from the beginning to the end. Architects, sculptors, painters, and engineers have all been ready and eager to direct their best efforts to a common end of exalted art; to sacrifice their most cherished ideas, if the development of them was found to conflict with harmony and unity of result. For the first time in our country, architects have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of completing their works by sculpture and painting of a high order, adjusted to the exigencies of the original design. In no single case has a sculptor hesitated to modify the sentiment of his composition so as to conform to the idea of the structure, or to change its outlines so that they might take their proper share, and no more, in the architectural scheme. The best painters in the country have gladly forsaken their easels and their profitable commissions to play a noble but subordinate part in the decoration of the walls and vaulted ceilings of the great peristyles and porches. They have labored, one and all, joyously and sincerely, with eager but most friendly emulation, in this monumental task. Mr. F. D. Millet, the Director of Color, with admirable energy and tact, and with astonishing executive ability, has controlled and harmonized the difficult work of his brother painters; so that over all this department has presided a spirit of bonhomie and fellowship which could not fail to have the best results. The necessity for prompt decision and rapid workmanship seemed to spur these artists to their highest endeavor, and to inspire them with a fine enthusiasm. This friendly emulation presented a scene rarely witnessed in the history of art. At the midday rest, painters and sculptors would assemble around their table at the commissariat, compare notes, exchange advice and chaff over the social pipe, after the manner of the studios; and then, with new zeal, each would take his electric boat, and, over the waters of the canals or the Lagoon, find his way to his distant field of operations, disembark at the broad water-stairs of his palace, as if he had been in Venice, climb his rough scaffolding, and resume his difficult and dangerous labors upon the panels of his particular dome or wall surface. In this way they have all lavished their efforts, cheered by the consciousness that they were doing their honest part in this great concert of the arts.
Among the architects this spirit of mutual concession has been especially remarkable. Those concerned in the designing of the buildings surrounding the great Court and Basin, where it was peculiarly necessary that a magnificent unity of sentiment should prevail, and where it was important that each building should assist its neighbors with a sort of high courtesy, avoiding every feature which by rivalry or contrast should bring into the general composition any elements of discord or disproportion, sacrificed themselves to this end with admirable self-denial. If, in any building, a dome was proposed so large as to challenge comparison or suggest rivalry with that of the central Administration Building, which it was agreed should always be predominant, it was cheerfully suppressed, as was the case in the earlier studies of the Manufacturers’ Building. If, as in the Agricultural Building, a porch was designed, admirably accentuating the centre of the principal facade, but interfering with the continuity of the terrace surrounding the great Basin, it was removed without a murmur of discontent. If the campaniles of the Electricity Building seemed to introduce an element too lofty in comparison with the element of height in the other designs, they were gladly reduced. In short, every one of the greater buildings of the Exposition, with the possible exception of the Illinois pavilion and that of the United States, which were developed independently, has yielded something to the spirit of harmonious conformity, without sacrifice, however, of any essential point of individuality. Thus, wherever the conditions of dignity and unity have required it, each of the great architectural facades has been studied so as to compose well with its neighbors, and give to the dullest comprehension an impression of monumental harmony. In this vast orchestra, no individuality forces itself into undue prominence to disturb the majestic symphony.
No student of architecture who visits the great Court of the Exposition, and sees there how the fundamental principle of variety in unity has been carried into practice on a vast scale, with no unsympathetic censor to check the free developments of art, can fail to take away with him a lesson far more impressive and abiding than can possibly be furnished by examples on any less restricted and less noble field. To the practitioner of this art, who has never enjoyed the advantages of education in the schools, this scene must inevitably prove a revelation of the possibilities of architectural composition in pure style, and an admonition to aim, in his future practice, at the virtues of repose and self-repression, to avoid loading his designs with the conceits of undisciplined invention, and to produce his effects by the careful study and refinement of a few established motifs rather than by crowding his composition with ill-digested novelties. It is sufficiently evident that to architecture, at least, the Exposition will bring a message of civilization which cannot be misunderstood, and which inevitably must have immediate and enduring effects upon the general practice of the art. This practice has always shown itself peculiarly sensitive to the influence of good examples ; it is risking little to prophesy that in this country architecture in especial, and the decorative arts in general, will, after this Exposition, be inspired by an irresistible impulse for reform, and for a greater unity of effort in the establishment of style. Certainly, the practical value of thorough training in the art has been amply proved, so that hereafter no aspirant can be content with less.
“ There is a solidarity in the arts,” said Mr. Norton ; “ they do not flourish in isolated independence.” Painting and sculpture, in the highest sense, cannot flourish when architecture is in a state of depression. Architecture cannot succeed when it is not sustained and completed by its sister arts. To decorate architecture has ever been, and must ever be, the highest function of sculptor or painter. To make architecture fit to receive such decoration is the noblest impulse of that art. Painting, sculpture, and architecture are in their best estate and are enjoying their highest opportunities when they are working together.
But in the monuments of the Exposition still another fine art has played a most conspicuous part in this great concert. There is one man, and, so far as we know, none other, capable of conceiving and carrying out the work of the landscape architects as it has been done at Jackson Park. To Frederick Law Olmsted, assisted in the practical and administrative part of this work by his partner, the late Henry Sargent Codman, is to be credited the brilliant idea of converting the hopeless sand-dunes and intervening marshes of this district into a series of low and broad terraces, intersected by the Basin, the canals, and the Lagoon, which form the most distinguishing and characteristic features of the Exposition. It was mainly by his fine artistic sympathy, in counsel with the advisory architect of the Department of Construction, the late John Welborn Root, that these terraces were adjusted to receive a great architectural demonstration, illustrated by a series of tentative schemes in block for the locating of the great buildings. This long series finally culminated in one which met all the conditions of architectural arrangement and convenience so completely, and with such fine forethought for all the future exigencies of the Exposition, that the Board of Architects, who were subsequently summoned to distribute among themselves the designing of the buildings, and to whom this final project was submitted, could agree upon no material modifications of it. Never was a combination of monumental buildings, contrived for a specific and monumental purpose, more carefully and ingeniously studied for the production of preconceived effects of order and magnificence. It is with no little astonishment, therefore, that we read in the otherwise most laudatory report of the Marquis Chasseloup-Laubet to the Société des Ingénieurs Civiles that his first and final impression of the group was affected by the absence of a plan d’ensemble ! This judgment can be accounted for only by the fact that he must have viewed the grounds when they were encumbered by building materials, and must have entered upon the scene at some accidental point, so that the general scheme did not develop to his eye in the proper order, and in the manner provided by the plan. At that time, the monumental railroad entrance at the west end of the Court was hardly accessible. To the visitor entering here, the architectural scheme of the Exposition must necessarily unfold itself with harmonious dignity ; the carefully provided vistas cannot fail, as he advances, to have their due effect upon the mind, and leave upon it an indelible impression of unity and order. A glance at the latest plans of the grounds will explain how this impression is produced. The fine sentiment of fellowship in a common cause, which, as we have seen, marked the relations between the other artists, was especially felt by the architects in working with Messrs. Olmsted and Codman. The architects of building and of landscape were animated by a mutual zeal, and each aided the other with loyalty and enthusiasm. In fact, without the constant exercise of these qualities of brotherhood in art, the general result of harmony, which the French marquis apparently did not see, but which every visitor to the completed grounds will have forced upon him, whatever may be the degree of his susceptibility to emotions of art, would have been impossible. This adjustment of architecture to its environment furnishes still another lesson, which cannot be lost to a people who, by this experience, obtain the highest possible standard of performance in the laying out and adornment of their public parks and pleasure grounds, their boulevards and city squares, and the location of their public buildings.
But if, in the making of the grounds of Jackson Park, and in the location of the palaces of art and industry thereon, there has been achieved a result of conformity and mutual adjustment more admirable than one might see even in the gardens of Versailles or of Marly, and on a scale far more colossal, and if the peristyles, kiosks, fountains, bridges, statues, columns, arches of triumph, and other subordinate features, distributed among the greater buildings, have served to lighten the prevailing effect of maiestv and order without disturbing it, it must be frankly admitted that a note of confusion and discordance has been introduced in a comparatively small area at the northern end of the park by the emulation of the States of the Union in their pavilions. The parklike aspect formerly presented in this part of the grounds by the lawns, driveways, and fairly grown trees has quite disappeared, and its avenues, crowded with the ambitious and incongruous structures of the rival commonwealths, have taken upon themselves the heterogeneous characteristics of boulevards in a prosperous town. Here the architects have not been able to enjoy the advantages of concerted action. Several of these structures are beautifully designed, and are contrived with great success to recall the historic memories of the States, respectively, which have erected them. But no attempt at harmony has been made. They are too large for their purposes, and are crowded far too closely for any dignity of effect. Each one, instead of being isolated in its own pleasance, surrounded by trees and shrubbery, where its reminiscences of English colonial dignity, or of the Spanish missions, or of any local quality of Eastern or Western civilization might be independently expressed without challenging comparisons, elbows a neighbor “ in contact inconvenient ” on either side. Some of them, indeed, are frank examples of our own outworn vernacular architecture, with all its offensive and ungoverned crudities of detail. Perhaps it is well that this element should be expressed somewhere at the World’s Fair, for the sake of local color, and that, in comparing these huddled incongruities (which, by the bye, possibly had something to do in affecting the precipitous judgment of the French marquis) with the ordered grandeur and beauty of the main part of the Exposition grounds, the spectator may find the best sort of admonition as to the supreme value of art not only in designing buildings, but in designing combinations of buildings in towns, squares, and streets, so that every structure in them shall have some relation of harmony with its neighbors.
Every block in our large cities is made up of a series of independent, uncompromising individualities, each struggling to distinguish itself by obliterating its neighbors ; and if any one of these discordant members succeeds in the greedy emulation, it is generally by virtue of some superior audacity in height or vulgar pretense. True beauty, which loves quiet and peace, is apt to shrink and hide itself for shame at being caught in such quarrelsome company. By this great object lesson at Chicago, any thoughtful mind may learn that order and congruity in the architecture of our city streets are not necessarily monotony and wearisome iteration, but may be obtained by mutual concessions, resulting in an effect of concord without detriment to any desirable quality of individual distinction. To the apprehension of an artist, the earliest existing permanent building in a block, whatever may be its quality as a work of design, has earned its right to give a keynote to those which follow, the observance of which need not embarrass the freedom of their development; for true art is flexible to every local condition. In this way are built the streets of Utopia, perhaps, and the heavenly mansions, but the ideal is not inaccessible even to us in our lower estate. It is simply a question of mutual concession, and
There is yet another lesson — a lesson of color — which the Exposition will inculcate in a manner not readily forgotten. It has been found, after numerous experiments, that the most effective surface treatment of the large masses, both of the exterior and interior in the greater buildings, is one of nearly pure white, modified, so far as the interiors are concerned, by screens of translucent fabrics, stretched beneath the skylights, in combinations of tints varied to suit the especial conditions of each building. This device furnishes to each an atmosphere of faint rainbow color tones, which is felt as a pervading spirit of refinement throughout the interiors, but is so contrived as in no case to compete with or to influence the stronger local colors of the exhibits. In some of the buildings painted friezes and cartouches have been added, to confer upon them large decorative effects of especial character and significance.
The white marble exterior treatment of the architecture is relieved by a system of awnings, shades, banners, and flags, of fabrics especially woven, and of devices especially contrived, to offset the serious purity of the architectural lines, to supplement the local color embellishments of the painters in the shadows of porches and peristyles, and to confer upon the whole scene a festival aspect, full of joyous animation, but without those harsh contrasts which have hitherto converted our holiday decorations into riotous discords of crude and conflicting colors.
The sudden death of Mr. Root, and later of Mr. Codman, both of them on the threshold of the greatest achievements in their respective fields, is felt not only as a personal bereavement by those comrades in art who were associated with them in the study and execution of this vast enterprise, but as a loss to the whole nation, whose interests they served to the end of their bright careers with entire devotion and unselfish enthusiasm. No story of the Exposition can be complete without an honorable recognition of the great service which they rendered to it.
We are already hearing loud and frequent expressions of regret that, after the brilliant six months of pageantry are over, the vast collections of the Exposition will be scattered to the four winds ; the great arches and trusses of steel, and the other merchantable portions of the structures of these palaces of art, will be sold to the highest bidder; the majestic ordonnances of columns and arches, pavilions, domes, and towers, with their statuary, their bas-reliefs and paintings, will disappear from the face of the earth; the fountains will be dried up, the bridges destroyed, the gardens absorbed ; the Indians, the Algerians, the Japanese, the Egyptians, and the Esquimaux will ” fold their tents like the Arabs, and as silently steal away ; ” and in a few short months nothing will be left but a vacant area of land, and the memory of the greatest function of the century. The productions of the photographer, the medals of award, and whatever of new life and higher endeavor may follow in the practice of all the arts will perhaps be needed to assure ourselves that the Exposition of 1893 was not a dream.
So far as the architectural designs of the buildings are concerned, as much thought and study have been bestowed upon them as if they were intended for all time. The sculptors and painters have embellished them as they would have embellished permanent monuments. Yet it is not difficult to prove that all this will be no waste of treasure or effort, and that even the ephemeral character of the pageant will make it all the more precious to those who read its purpose aright.
If it is true
Whiles we enjoy it; but being lack’d and lost,
Why, then we rack the value ; then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours,”
it is equally true that we never value a precious thing so highly as when we know that it will soon pass from our possession forever. The appreciation and enjoyment of such a thing are quickened and magnified by its transiency. The touch of regret in our emotions not only softens, but sweetens our judgment. The “ White City ” by the lake, which seems to have arisen almost
Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet,”
will disappear as it came, like an enchantment, leaving not even a mound, a broken column, or a mouldering capital to mark its place; and every spectator who walks in its porches or gazes upon its mighty fronts will instinctively feel as if, while the unsubstantial pageant lasts, he should make the most of it, and leave no point of its beauty or grandeur unstudied. Every great work of art, whether it presents itself merely as an incident of travel, or whether it is staled by daily contact, has its influence, more or less undefined and unsuspected, upon mind and character. But if the stranger is conscious that to-morrow he must leave it behind forever, it makes upon his intelligence an ineffaceable image. He analyzes it with eager eyes and senses all alert. He instinctively desires to make it his own, a part of himself. The slow work of years is for him done in a day, and for him the conquest of art over the imagination is at once completed. If it is a work of architecture, this conquest is accomplished by the unity of its organism, by its simplicity and wholeness of scheme in general outline, and by the harmonious subordination of its details. This unity impresses the object upon the mind at first view, and engages the attention and interest of the spectator, who is flattered by his ability to comprehend it. Its complications charm him as he is charmed by a strain of music, though in each case the technique may be far beyond his reach. This interest is confirmed if the monument of art is so devised that its finer meanings unfold themselves to his intelligence gradually, its details presenting themselves in the order of their importance to the general scheme. A less harmonious and less symmetrical organism perplexes his mind by the disorder of its composition; its parts are not so subordinated as to appeal to his eye in proper succession. He sees details before he sees the general idea; and the mental impression conveyed to him is blurred and indistinct, if in this way he is constrained to make an effort to understand its motive of design and the message which it brings, — if indeed it has any message except one of warning against false art.
It would seem, therefore, that, in view of the ephemeral character of the Exposition, nothing has been really wasted, and everything has been gained, by that expenditure of means and effort which has been necessary to make it beautiful. Its great function would have been but poorly fulfilled if the spirit of mere utility and common sense had controlled the enterprise, had cheapened it as a demonstration of art, and, because it was to be merely temporary, had made it palpably economical. “ A thing of beauty is a joy ” not only while you look at it, but “ forever.” The collections of the Exposition would have been installed as safely and as conveniently in buildings which cost five or six millions as in buildings which cost ten or twelve; but the work of civilization possible to it at the larger price would have been but half done at the lower. The alabaster box of precious ointment was not broken in vain at the feet of our Saviour, though it might have been sold for three hundred pence, and the money given to the poor.
Not only to the practice of all the industrial and liberal arts, but to that of the fine arts, the Exposition will have a bequest of the utmost value ; a bequest which could come from no source less exalted ; a bequest which, as regards the fine arts in especial, will ever be associated with the assurance of the triumphs to be achieved in the future by their cooperation in a spirit of cordial unity. Whatever may have been the causes which finally culminated in the brilliant solidarity of the arts in the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, from which has developed all the best that has been done in art since that time, it can hardly be doubted that, if a new and equally brilliant era shall presently be begun in the New World of Columbus, upon a far larger field, with nobler opportunities and without embarrassment of traditions and prejudices, it will date its initial movement and inspiration in the last decade of the nineteenth century, when the Exposition at Chicago taught its great lessons of civilization.
Henry Van Brunt.