THE prevailing tendency amongst the authors and publishers of art books today may be expressed in one word, — “Thorough.” From twenty to thirty works in this field appear in English every year, not counting the many little volumes which go to form one popular series or another; and what has impressed me most in going through the annual collection has been the obvious effort made to give it a serious and permanent character. The change from the old days of the meretricious “gift book” is due in great measure, as I have pointed out in these pages before, to the development of reproductive processes, which have made good illustrations easily possible. But it is also due to a marked improvement in public taste and to the rise of an extraordinary number of writers keenly interested in the study and criticism of art. Women, especially in England, are flinging themselves upon the subject with ardor, and keep the presses busy with their monographs on this or that historic figure. Few amongst the newcomers of either sex bring inspiration to their task, but few are deficient in the equally necessary virtues of industry and good sense. The result is that we have in the world of book - making an atmosphere too long absent, an atmosphere altogether favorable to the production of the art book as a thing indispensable to modern culture. As I write, the announcement comes to hand of an exhaustive book on Francesco Guardi, which Air. George A. Simonson is bringing out in London. It is to contain new documents, a full catalogue of the Venetian painter’s works, and, of course, many plates. Fifteen years ago no one writing in English would have undertaken to prepare a work of the sort. If any one had been rash enough to do so, he would probably have had to put his text in French, for the benefit of a Parisian publisher. Decidedly, things have changed.
They have changed, but we have still to reckon with the fact that the brilliant critic is born, not made. He is as rare now as he ever was, and only one of the books published in the last twelvemonth serves to remind us that he exists. The tendency I mentioned at the outset has this advantage, or disadvantage, that it does not need a man of genius for its effective exploitation. Given his hero, the average historian of art now knows just what to do, and does it with exemplary system. He travels up and down Europe, visiting all the public galleries and many private collections, and makes himself acquainted with his master’s works. At the same time he reads the literature of his subject, particularly the contributions made to it by the followers of Morelli in Germany, Italy, and France. Then he writes a biography, adds descriptions, — the critical elements in which are largely colored by the conclusions of the authorities, — introduces as many illustrations as possible, and, winding up with a carefully compiled catalogue, sends his book forth. It is, in most cases, a book to be welcomed. “Here,” says the reader, “are all the facts ; ” and the facts are valuable. What one misses is the insight, the kindling emotion, which will turn a book from a work of reference into a source of pleasure. The missing qualities cannot, I repeat, be acquired by deliberate endeavor. If they do not come naturally to a writer he will never possess them. Nevertheless, I cannot help wondering if current art criticism would not have a little more vitality if it were written with a little less complacency. Vour latter-day expert takes himself with appalling seriousness, and stands up so straight that now and then he falls backwards. He is afraid to take a natural, human view of his subject, being fearful that if he does so he will be regarded as an amateur. Enthusiasm he shuns as a purely Ruskinian vice. There are exceptions, of course. Mr. Gerald S. Davies, for example, showed in the admirable folio on Frans Hals, which he published two years ago, how easy it is to be at once instructive and exhilarating. But usually the critic’s responsibility weighs so heavily upon him that he forgets — assuming that he knows how — to be freely and richly suggestive. That is why I feel a peculiar gratitude to the author of the single individualized art book which has lately been published.
He is Mr. Charles S. Ricketts, and his book is called The Prado and its Masterpieces.1 Before analyzing its quality it is perhaps worth while to say a word or two about the author, since he belongs in the narrow category of artists who write. When I first saw his work he was associated with Mr. Charles H. Shannon, now one of the most brilliant painters in England, in the publication of a somewhat astonishing periodical, The Dial. This short-lived magazine, which appeared at irregular intervals, and ceased to appear at all after three or four numbers, was one of those miscellanies in which “temperament” is writ large across every page. Mr. Shannon made lithographs for it; Mr. Ricketts embellished it with wood engravings ; and Mr. Sturge Moore, who has since developed into a very charming poet, had a hand in the enterprise both as artist and writer. The whole thing seemed to me compounded of cleverness and decadence. It was a kind of superior “Yellow Book.” Now the interesting circumstance, the one that justifies allusion to Mr. Ricketts’s earlier performances, is that he looked at art in those experimental days from the inside, looked at it both as a craftsman and as a man of imagination. Underneath the affectation of Tlte Dial one divined a certain sincerity. That it was there, in so far as Mr. Ricketts was concerned, is made doubly plain by his book on the Prado. To me it seems as if he had at last come into his own, as if his book were the product of a steady growth. It is a sumptuous affair with nearly a score of beautiful photogravures, but it is the kind of book which one would like to see printed in convenient form so that it might be put in a traveling bag and carried not only to Madrid, but to all the other art capitals of Europe, as a really illuminating companion. It is a mature piece of work, alive with sound thoughts on great subjects. Of it we may say, as we may say so seldom of a book on art, that it relates “the adventures of a soul among masterpieces.”
The Prado is a monument by itself. No other great museum offers one quite the same sensations. It has its limitations. I remember that when T entered it for the first time, after long experience in the galleries of Italy, I felt, for a moment, a little wave of disappointment. It was difficult to be reconciled to the absence of so many of the earlier Italian masters. This disappointment has, I believe, been shared by many travelers. But it lasts only for a moment, and is never felt again, for in place of the Tuscans you have in this famous museum a collection of works by the painters of Europe, using the word in its strictest sense, such as you can find nowhere else. Velasquez and Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck, El Greco and Goya, combine in the Prado to illustrate with unique fullness the sheer power of the brush. Other masters uphold their hands, so to say, and the student who submits to the influence of the glorious company discovers, after a while, that he is positively saturated in the charm of technic. Mr. Ricketts’s sympathy for the collection is readily to be understood. As an artist he could not resist so magnificent an exhibition of painter’s painting. But what makes him delightful in his book is his refusal to remain merely an artist, to look for technic and nothing more. On the contrary, he is not ashamed to read an artist’s nature into his work. Interpreting Velasquez, for example, no less as a man than as a craftsman, he boldly remarks that if we like his pictures for their mere paint, “ we also like them for the sake of the man who painted them.” He is nothing if not well balanced. It is the fashion among many artists, and among many writers, to speak of Velasquez as a demigod lifted high above all the painters who have ever lived. Mr. Ricketts can laud him without losing his head. His summing up of the matter is at once so measured and so true that I must quote it intact: —
“ The marvellous art of Velasquez is one of balance, moderation, and selfcontrol. Few artists of his rank have contented themselves with a field so restricted, or have concealed with such naturalness and tact the effort or ease with which their work was done. In a subtle blending of forces, none of them quite supreme or unsurpassed by others, he is able to conceal the effort of fusion by a lack of all affectation, and beat out into a middle course without conveying a latent sense of effort or mediocrity.
“ Other artists have revealed new aspects of nature, or combinations of aspects, have founded schools or destroyed them. Velasquez did no such thing; his aim was the perfection that lies in reason and moderation.
“ He is the profound student who makes no parade of his knowledge, the profound observer for whom observation and mere curiosity is not an end in itself. His native gifts, at the first neither ample nor original, were husbanded till they yielded one of the most delicate examples of what painting can do to interpret or transmute what in any other man’s work would have been little more than fine piece-painting.
“ We forget that he was neither in line or colour a creative painter as Rubens is or Rembrandt is; we yield to the freshness of his vision, the delicate science of his brush, the gravity and charm of his artistic personality, — to his supreme distinction.”
The note in this is one of sympathetic understanding; it is also the note of common sense, and that is what Mr. Ricketts gives us all along the line. He has enthusiasm in abundance, but he knows when to keep it in check. Nothing could be better than his analysis of El Greco, whose violent genius has recently moved some commentators to highfalutin. He has one particularly happy phrase on that artist,'—“His pictures might at times have been painted by torchlight in a cell of the Inquisition, ” — but in this instance, as in others, he walks all around his subject as well as goes to the heart of it, and leaves in the long run an impression of reason as well as of swift intuition. Altogether, this is a book to be read and re-read, a book calculated to make one think.
Mr. Ricketts is this year, at all events, the only English critic who has produced what we may call a germinal book. The publications of his countrymen in the field of art stand more particularly for those serviceable routine labors at which I have already glanced. Several of their books, when taken together, and with reference to events in the last four or five years, bring up the question of what we owe in these matters to fashion. American collectors have for a couple of decades been known for their purchases of French landscapes. For a long time no private gallery on this side of the water was considered complete unless it contained souvenirs of the Barbizon school, and to this day they are more or less indispensable. But the building of great mansions in our chief cities, and, even more, in the country, has been accompanied by a new movement in the picture market. Big decorative canvases have been wanted for big wall spaces, and the dealers have met the demand with a voluminous supply of portraits by the old masters. Spanish, Italian, and French paintings have been imported in great numbers for this purpose, but the Englishmen of the eighteenth century have led all the rest in popularity. It has been a notable coincidence, if nothing more, that the publishers have kept pace with the dealers, and that in every year’s body of art books portraiture as a subject has been remarkably conspicuous. Mr. Davies took it up in his books on Hals and Holbein. Sir Walter Armstrong celebrated it in his stately volumes on Gainsborough and Reynolds. Only last year one of the principal books of the season was devoted to the work of Mr. Sargent, most of it in portraiture. This year the same story is to be told, with the difference that the old English school is very much in the foreground.
We have had, as noted above, definitive works on Gainsborough and Reynolds. Justice has also been done to Raeburn and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Hoppner alone remains to be commemorated with all the luxury of broad pages and beautiful photogravures, for Romney 2 has just been made the hero of two imposing quartos written and compiled by Mr. Humphry Ward, the art critic of the London Times, and Mr. W. Roberts, whose bibliographical contributions have long been valued by readers of the Athenceum. These collaborators have done their work well. Mr. Ward’s biographical and critical essay is brief and sufficiently edifying, though it contains no especially original views. Mr. Roberts has framed a useful catalogue raison ne of Romney’s paintings, and between this and the essay his diaries are transcribed, showing that he gave nearly nine thousand sittings in something less than twenty years. The diaries form a bald record, with no passages that are readable for their own sake, but they are useful in fixing the chronology of the works. Naturally much stress is laid upon the illustrations, seventy photogravures of the finest quality forming a kind of gallery in little. They explain, by the way, why fashion is now going to Romney, or to his colleagues, for paintings wherewith to decorate its walls. He delineated the great world of his day, a world dominated by brilliant men and beautiful women, especially beautiful women, and he went about his business with resources that flowered in perhaps the most purely charming contributions ever made to English portraiture. Reynolds and Gainsborough both surpassed him along certain lines. The former was a born court painter, and could produce a state portrait with a certain grandeur quite out of Romney’s reach. Gainsborough, a far subtler, fresher, and more distinguished manipulator of pigment, had a good deal of Sir Joshua’s sophistication. Romney differed from both in his art, as he differed from them in his nature. He was one of the shyest of men, passionately absorbed in his work. According to one of his pupils, “in his painting room he seemed to have the highest enjoyment of life.” Mr. Ward dismisses theEmma Hamilton episode as having influenced the painter’s state of mind without drastically affecting his career. “My own opinion, stated in a single sentence,” he says, “is this: that Romney was really in love with Emma, but that Emma probably never knew it, and that it never occurred to her to return the passion.” Though he loved her, she could not detach him from his painting, or diminish the fervor of his devotion to abstract beauty. There is a letter of his written from Venice to a friend in Rome and describing his emotions on leaving that city, which is worth quoting as a clue to the spirit in which Romney worked: — “ Something hung about my heart that felt like sorrow, which continued to increase till I reached the summit of Mount Viterbo. I arrived there about half an hour before the vctturino; indeed, I hastened to do so, as well knowing it would be the last time I should see Rome. I looked with an eager eye to discover that divine place. It was enveloped in a bright vapor, as if the rays of Apollo shone there with greater lust re than at any other spot upon this terrestrial globe. My mind visited every place, and thought of everything that had given it pleasure: and I continued some time in that state, with a thousand tender sensations playing about my heart, till I was almost lost in sorrow—think, O, think! my dear Carter, where you are, and do not let the sweets of that divine place escape from you; do not leave a stone unturned that is classical; do not leave a form unsought out that is beautiful, nor even a line of the great Michael Angelo.”
Gainsborough was a sensitive man, and so was Reynolds, in his way, but it is doubtful if either of them could have written the foregoing letter. As Mr. Ward says, " there is nothing in Reynolds’s Italian notes so personal and so selfrevealing as this passage.” Gentleness, even a kind of sad sweetness, are what we feel in it, and these are the things that are disclosed in Romney’s paintings. The courtly elegance of his sitters was modified by him as he reproduced it on canvas, and made womanly and tender. Limpid, delicate, spontaneous, these are the epithets that spring to the lips when one is in the presence of a fine example of his art. I say a “fine example” advisedly. He could not have given those nine thousand sittings without, on occasion, feeling fatigue. He could not have produced the hundreds of portraits enumerated by Mr. Roberts without leaving some of them coldly conventional performances. But even in a poor Romney there will be discernible, sometimes, a passage of delightful execution; not ravishing as in Gainsborough or powerful as in Reynolds, but simple, pure, and most beguilingly suave.
That last merit is the salient merit of the school of English engravers from which Mrs. Julia Frankau, the novelist and amateur of prints, has drawn the subjects for her latest book, William Ward, A. R. A. and James Ward, R. A.3The mezzotints of the eighteenth century were the direct consequence of the paintings of that period. The men who scraped them not only devoted themselves to reproducing the works of Reynolds and the rest, but were animated by much the same spirit. They were, like the artists, part of a social epoch. They cultivated precision and grace. Above all they cultivated suavity, and in the velvety tones of their plates they echo the refinement and luxury characteristic of the best society of their time. Incidentally they were superb technicians, but that their masterpieces are to-day valued more for that fact than for anything else is open to question. It is true that it is only the flawless impression of a great mezzotint that makes a sensation in the auction room, and here and there there are doubtless collectors who admire a plate by John Raphael Smith, or Valentine Green, or William Ward, for its own sake. Mrs. Frankau is plainly one of them. But there is no denying tliat here, again, modern fashion has exerted a tremendous influence in an artistic matter. Prints are substituted for paintings, when the latter are not available, as objects of decoration, and even in houses full of pictures they are used for the same purpose with inimitable effect. I note this, not in criticism, but simply as a sign of the times.
Mrs. Frankau has the courage of her convictions. In the regal portfolio of forty engravings which forms part of her work, she gives most of her plates to William Ward, who reproduced paint - ings like Hoppner’s famous Miranda in noble fashion, when he was not designing and stippling dainty circular or oval portraits of feminine types. But in the octavo which contains her text, she fills much of her space with a biographical sketch of James Ward, who valued his gifts as an engraver less than he valued his gifts as a painter. He was a curious man, morbid and conceited. Accomplished as an animal painter, he wasted an immense amount of his time and energy on allegories which he was hopelessly unfitted to produce. Mrs. Frankau has done well to paint his portrait and to put on record a favorable estimate of his animal pictures and his engravings. The thirty photogravures from his works, which she scatters through her text, are important to the student. But this publication of hers will necessarily be valued in great measure for the engravings after William Ward’s mezzotints and stipples. They give us equivalents for the originals so exact that they might easily deceive the inexpert collector. The mezzotints are wonderfully rich in tone. The stipples are as successful in color. Their publication at this time, if not significant of any tendency in art criticism, is, on the other hand, clearly significant of a phase of modern taste. They point to that interest in portraiture which is at present one of the most noticeable phenomena on the artistic horizon.
Dr. Williamson’s work in two richly illustrated folios, The History of Portrait Miniatures,4 points to the same thing. The audience he addresses is composed in part of students, but much more of collectors. The latter are supplied in these volumes with all the information requisite to profitable indulgence in their hobby. The author has made minute investigations into his subject, exploring innumerable collections and overhauling many historical documents.
He traverses the works of all the masters, and with the aid of his excellent plates reduces a somewhat complicated subject to a practicable condition. The reader who studies in this book the traits and historical relations of the painters described ought to be able to start out upon a search for interesting examples uncommonly well equipped. The art of the miniaturist is still a living art, inasmuch as there are competent painters here and in Europe producing good miniatures. Nevertheless, the great tradition of the art is dead. There is no point of contact between the modern miniature, brilliant though it may be, and the miniature of the golden era in England. We know how to draw, but not as Holbein drew. We know how to paint, but not as Holbein and his followers painted. The German master, though rivaled by Clouet in France, had a manner all his own, one of incomparable breadth and precision, on which, when he came to England in the sixteenth century, he founded the one school of miniature painting that is superior to all the others, — the English. He was as much the painter when he executed a tiny portrait as when he covered a spacious panel, and he was, into the bargain, as strong an interpreter of character when working in the one form as in the other. He taught the English, not only of his own day, but of later generations, to avoid the pitfall of the miniaturist, a lack of proportion. Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver, and Samuel Cooper, who came after him, carried on his noble style.
It was noble because it implied, within the cramping limits of a miniature, all those qualities of brilliant draughtsmanship, subtle modeling, and inner vitality which belong to a work of art on any scale, without seeming in any way ill at ease. Adjustment is the secret of a good miniature, the accommodation of breadth to narrowness. Every good miniature has been a tour de force, a miracle worked through consummate tact, taste, and deftness. The English went on working these miracles down into the eighteenth century. Cosway, who is beside Holbein like a butterfly beside an eagle, was at any rate worthy of his German predecessor in that he adapted his means to the end he pursued. Holbein, working in the grand style, and Cosway, working in merely exquisite vein, were at one on the point of making a miniature as free a painting, within its close boundaries, as the amplest mural decoration might be. This is the lesson enforced by Dr. Williamson’s numerous examples. It should be taken into consideration by collectors as one touchstone to use in the market. It should also, obviously, be noted by miniaturists, but few of them seem inclined to take the hint given them by the masterpieces of the past. The common practice nowadays is to make a miniature look either like a postage stamp enlarged or an easel picture reduced. It occurs to only a few artists to accept the hard and fast conditions imposed by the miniature, and to attempt to triumph over them without violating what is essential to their character.
An interesting illustration of the fidelity with which a true artist adheres to the principles of the form in which he works is provided in Fabriczy’s Italian Medals,5 which has lately been put into English by Mrs. Gustavus W. Hamilton. The book gives a scholarly but not pedantic account of Pisanello and his followers, clear half-tones from many of their most characteristic works adding to the value of the text. Herr von Fabriczy does not fail to point out that the medal of the Renaissance was regarded by the princes of that time as “a portable monument,” and developed by the sculptors with a full consciousness of its potentiality in that direction. He takes sufficient account of the historical value of the medal. But he realizes, too, that the importance
of this product of the Renaissance lies largely in its aesthetic relations. Pisanello, in practically creating the medal, might have followed the methods of the mint. He remembered in time that he was working, not in a mint, but in a studio, and made his medals, not coins, but pieces of sculpture. He did in bronze what Holbein was to do when he came to paint miniatures: recognized the limitations of his medium and conquered in spite of them, or, rather, through meeting them halfway, and adapting the language of plastic art to a delicately decorative purpose. It is odd that while historic miniatures have been assiduously collected by American connoisseurs, the latter have steadily neglected the Italian medalist. No one in this country has even attempted to bring together such a collection of medals as that which belongs to M. Gustave Dreyfus, in Paris, for example. Perhaps it is because the subject has rarely been brought up amongst us. Talking about it with a well-known Roman worker in bronze a year or so ago, I suggested that a good beginning might be made if he were to cast reproductions of some of the best medals by Pisanello, Matteo de Pasti, and others, existing in Italy, and exhibit them in America. A recent letter informs me that he lias adopted the idea and is preparing about a hundred examples. These may do promising missionary work in the United States, and the translation of Fabriczy’s book may likewise be of service. The medalists of the Renaissance should be known here as amongst the great masters of art, and their works should have an influence upon American sculptors and students as exemplifications of the rectitude of form. Almost any one of Pisanello’s little bronzes constitutes a lesson in proportion.
I may appropriately touch at this point upon the one or two other recent publications dealing with Italian themes. None of them has the importance of such books as Kristeller’s Mantegna or Ricci’s Pintoricchio, to name only two of the works in this field brought out not long since, but they are books of interest just the same. Dr. Gronau’s Titian,6which has been translated from the German for the Library of Art, is not so specialized a piece of work as is the standard biography by Crowe and Cavalcaselle. It is tersely and vividly written, precisely the book for the general reader. The author pays special attention to the emotional and intellectual forces in the nature of his master, and brings out with emphasis the fact that Titian was a colorist not so much because he made his canvases glow as because he made them supremely harmonious. He speaks of the painter as having, indeed, achieved most in color in his latter years, when, “ while depending less and less on the help of strong tints and the use of contrast, he was trying to reach the highest effect of color by the employment of the simplest possible means.” This remark is characteristic of modern criticism. It goes constantly deeper and deeper below the surface, and tries to pluck the secret of a man’s work out from the heart, exposing the organic life within it. Dr. Gronau goes so far in his analysis of Titian that we wish he had gone farther and had treated the Venetian painter’s points of contact with the earlier Tuscans. Titian had something of the mixed pagan and pietistic feeling which we associate more particularly with the Florentine school. He could be religious and he could be classical, the Madonna and Venus both inspired his brush. It is this duality of his nature, quite as much as the pomp and splendor of his color, that makes him a type of Venice, where, to adapt a phrase of Mr, Hardy’s, it was difficult to tell whether a breeze blew from Cyprus or from Galilee.
In the same series with Dr. Gronau’s book, Miss Maud Cruttwell publishes a good study of Verrocchio.7 It is a thorough-going essay, notable for its clarification of the master’s works. Miss Cruttwell is ever careful to distinguish between the genuine pieces and the things by inferior imitators which have been attributed to Verrocchio. But she is even more useful, I think, in her patient unraveling of the different strains in his art, showing that if he was a profound realist, he was also too passionate a lover of beauty to stop at accurate imitation of fact. It is the old story of using technic simply as the vehicle for the expression of ideas. Verrocchio abounds in ideas: of design, of character, of beauty. Miss Cruttwell has a good passage on this point, based on a comparison between her sculptor and Pollaiuolo: —
“ Antonio Pollaiuolo, concentrating his faculties on a thorough understanding of the human frame, and particularly its muscular system, represented the nude figure in action in higher perfection than even Donatello had attained. His interest in the muscles and movements of joint and limb, and his consequent emphasis of violent action, gives his figures at times a truculence which verges on brutality. Verrocchio, while equally interested in interpreting human power and energy, expresses it less by its external manifestations of thews and sinews than by the intellectual force of character. The impression of strength received from the statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni is given less by his superb physique and audacious bearing than by the vitalizing power and concentration of will interpreted in the features. Here lies the chief distinction between these two artists. To Pollaiuolo strength meant muscle and sinew trained to an iron tenseness. The type chosen by him to express his ideals is the athlete brutalized by savage passion, with knotted joints, bent, sinewy legs, and huge torso; the forehead is deeply corrugated, the jaw square, the lips parted, bull-dog fashion, over the set teeth. His scenes are chiefly of ferocious combat waged with ungoverned fury. Nothing but the innate poetry of his temperament saves his art from the charge of brutality. With Verrocchio intellectual power dominates the physical energy.”
It is the story of Verrocchio’s art, and of his place in Italian sculpture, in a nutshell. He realized, with Donatello, the founder of his school, that a knowledge of anatomy was essential to him; but, again with Donatello, he went, above all things, for character and beauty. It is pleasant to see that Miss Cruttwell, who is not without erudition, cannot be lured by questions of attribution or what not from the appreciation of Verrocchio as a creative artist, whose essence is an imaginative quantity. In other words, her book has gusto; it is written with equal knowledge and enthusiasm. It is one of the best of those monographs to which I have referred as based on system and industry rather than on an original impulse. Miss Cruttwell may not touch the reader with a sense of new and fructifying criticism, but at least she appeals to him with the warmth of conviction.
Less spirited in its movement, and less learned, but on the whole a similarly workmanlike and creditable volume, is Mrs. Ady’s book on Botticelli,8 an expansion of the study which she published a year or so ago. This clear narrative restates the results of modern research and gives a trustworthy account of the Florentine painter’s career. What he owed to Savonarola and Dante is set forth in straightforward fashion, and his works are surveyed in chronological order, one by one, without audacious speculation or parade of science.
There is considerable parade of science in the monumental Rubens9 of M. Max Rooses ; but it is pardonable, if not altogether welcome. The devotion of the keeper of the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp to the famous artist of his native town has long been known. M. Emile Michel published some five years ago, in two handsome folios, the work on Rubens for which the world had been waiting, an authoritative critical biography, lavishly illustrated; but while, under ordinary circumstances, he might seem to have left little to be done with the subject, a place was bound to be kept open for M. Rooses. That gentleman has spent too many years of his life in the study of Rubens, has accumulated too many data relating to the painter, and has, as we have indicated, too deep a love for his hero, for any one to grudge him the demonstration he has longed to make. Moreover, now that lie has made it, I confess that if he has not invalidated M. Michel he has certainly justified himself. His work is encyclopaedic. He follows Rubens step by step from the cradle to the grave, and, in fact, I may note in passing, that before he does this he gives us the closest possible report of the painter’s family, dwelling with meticulous attention upon the elder Rubens in his ill-starred amatory intrigue, and upon every other episode which might help us to realize what manner of folk Rubens sprang from. The diplomatic and social incidents in the life of Rubens are carefully narrated ; and throughout, the man as well as the painter is vividly portrayed.
Where the works are concerned, M. Rooses shows the defects of his qualities. Nothing could be more luminous than his exposition of the painter’s early indebtedness to Italy, for example, and the whole account of Rubens at Mantua is excellent. There are some good pages, too, on the visit to Spain. Unfortunately, the author seems never to see his subject as a whole. His generalizations are interpolated, as they are provoked, in a long-drawn-out narrative which becomes clogged with facts and so wearies the reader that he has to make strenuous efforts if he means to be enlightened. One cannot see the wood because of the trees. It would have been wiser if M. Rooses had divided his work into two parts, one biographical and the other critical. If this would not do, then at least he might have been briefer. Taking the book as it is, I find it one of those storehouses of information which neither the student nor the specialist could afford to be without, but not the classic of art history which I had all along hoped M. Rooses would produce. Loyalty to Rubens, an unwillingness to slight any phase of the painter’s personality or career, has led him to put forth a book which one would like to be able to enjoy as much as one respects it. A word as to the illustrations. There are more than three hundred and fifty of them, photogravures, half-tones, and tinted reproductions of drawings. All of these are well made, but the drawings are especially gratifying.
The danger of becoming too much absorbed in a given painter or school is illustrated in various ways. With M. Rooses it does not mean any debasing of the critical standard. His opinions on Rubens are, indeed, as judicious as they are sympathetic. In his case it is merely the literary form given to his material that counts against him. One or two of the new books have not this venial demerit, but suffer from an incurable disposition in the authors to bestow unlimited praise where only the most discriminating appreciation is legitimate. I take up Miss Irene Langridge’s William Blake,10 and at the beginning of the first chapter read these amazing words: —
“The work of one of the greatest spirits that ever made Art his medium has yet its way to make among the general public. The world entertained the angel unawares, for three quarters of a century have passed since the death of William Blake, and still his name and his work are but indifferently known. Yet to those that know them, the designs from his pencil, and the poems from his pen, are among the most precious things that Art has bequeathed to us.”
The entire volume is written in the same vein. It would hardly seem, therefore, that it ought to be grouped amongst the significant art books of the year, but it is significant,— of a curious eddy in contemporary criticism. Miss Langridge is not alone in thinking that William Blake was “one of the greatest spirits that ever made Art his medium.” That strange man of genius, in his moments an exquisite poet, has been for years the object of a cult, and since writers themselves celebrated, like Swinburne, have paid him tribute, it has come about that in some quarters denial of his preeminence as an artist is regarded as sacrilege. It is, as a matter of fact, only common sense. Why the operation of the laws of art, which are pretty nearly as inexorable as the laws of nature, should be supposed to have been suspended for Blake’s benefit, I have never been able to perceive. His imagination was chaotic. Occasionally it flashed forth in a beautiful design, like the famous fourteenth plate for the book of Job, the one illustrating the line, “When the morning Stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy.” One, at least, of the drawings for Blair’s Grave, the Death’s Door, is a masterpiece. In many of his drawings Blake gives you vague hints of noble form, figures that suggest the creations of Michael Angelo, seen in a disordered dream. Finally, it may be admitted that Blake’s conceptions were frequently grandiose, suggesting poetic feeling and an original, powerful mind. But in execution his designs are mostly deplorable, and not all the special pleading in the world can turn them into great works of art. Such works of art are built up on rational design, honest drawing, and harmonious color. You cannot ignore these things any more than you can ignore the everlasting hills. Blake’s partisans ignore the principles that condemn the bulk of his work as an artist, and bravely acclaim him an immortal. It may be magnificent. It certainly is not criticism.
Another blithe champion of ail untenable theory is Mr. Wynford Dewhurst, who has written a work called Impressionist Painting,11 in which he begins by declaring that “the Impressionistic idea is of English birth,” and ends by bringing Max Liebermann into his book! He offers a beautiful example of the confusion of mind which ensues when a man has made up his mind to adopt and defend a certain creed. Mr. Dewhurst is all for impressionism and the world well lost. He is not content with praising the historic impressionists, Manet, Monet, Degas, and one or two others. He most enormously admires Whistler, Carriere, Pointelin, Besnard, Didier-Pouget, Alexander Harrison, and Max Liebermann; so he gathers them all in, throws up his cap, and declares that they, too, are impressionists. Meanwhile the bewildered layman might well ask wrhat had become of impressionism. It remains, of course, undisturbed by Mr. Dewhurst’s genial proceedings, an episode in modern French painting, the influence of which, though still felt, has so overlapped with other influences that its historic character must be isolated to be clearly understood. Manet and Monet and their group let the light of day flood their canvases and painted nature precisely as they saw it. Mr. Dewhurst is right in describing Jongkind, Boudin, and Cezanne as their forerunners in this regard, but they were the first men to do the thing that I have described with the thoroughness and force necessary to create a movement. Monet is still living, and if he cared enough to look at them, —— which I doubt, — he would recognize in many of the pictures hanging in every Salon the influence of himself and Manet. But he would see also that impressionism, as he understood it when he was fighting its battles, has lost its integrity, and that the men who flaunt his banner are really eclectics who have taken a leaf out of his book, a leaf out of Corot’s, and so on, through a long list. It is well to note their debt. It is a mistake to associate them with the pioneers, whose works have always an absolute unity. If we must classify, let us at any rate be accurate in our classification.
That is the belief of M. Dimier, whose French Painting in the Sixteenth Century,12 in the series including the Titian and Verrocchio noticed above, is a distinctly controversial publication. He ascribes the first really French note in French art to the initiative of Francis I, who gave tremendous impetus to the decorative impulse which has been profoundly active in the country ever since. For my own part I think that he is right, and that those who would give precedence to the French Primitives in the matter have a terribly uphill task before them. The debate between the two schools of criticism began last summer, when a remarkable exhibition of paintings by Jean Fouquet, Jean Malouel, Jean Bourdichon, Enguerrand Charonton, Nicolas Froment,and divers others, was opened in the Pavilion de Marsan at the Louvre. On one side it was argued that these masters were thorough Frenchmen, expressing the genius of their race in their works. On the other, it was maintained that, whether born on French soil or not, they painted so much under the influence of the Flemish Primitives as to fall naturally into the same historical category with those famous craftsmen. The battle has been waging furiously in the ’weightier organs of art criticism, and, I may add, there have been no defections from either side. Though these pages are confined to criticism of art books published in English, I may venture to allude to an imposing work tha t lies before me as I write, L’Exposition des Primitifs Francois: La Peinture en France sous les Valois, by M. Henri Bouchot, published by the Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts. It is a collection of one hundred magnificent plates. reproducing the salient works shown at the Pavilion de Marsan. M. Bouchot’s enthusiasm as shown in this work is delightful. He has all of the masters duly parceled out into schools. From this book one would judge that in the time of the Valois there were scattered over France any number of painters actively engaged in interpreting the ideas of their native land. But to the disinterested student Flemish influence is written so clearly across the face of every one of these pictures that to take them as purely French products seems an almost incredible assumption. The school was a school of echoes. It had gifted members, of that there can be no doubt. Some of the religious paintings reveal poignant feeling. Some of the portraits are superb. But in the main these Primitives suggest neither national temperament nor individual genius, and they are plainly deficient in mere beauty. If the reader questions M. Dimier’s verdict against the Primitives as the first purely French painters, let him go carefully over M. Bouchot’s plates, keeping the early Netherlandish masters constantly in mind. The odds are that he will adopt M. Dimier’s hypothesis as conclusive.
- The Prado and its Masterpieces. By C. S. RICKETTS. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. 1904.↩
- Romney. By HUMPHRY WARD and W. ROBERTS. Two volumes. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1904.↩
- William Ward, A. R. A. and James Ward, 12. A. Their Lives and Works. By JULIA FRANKAU. One volume and a portfolio. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1904.↩
- The History of Portrait Miniatures. By GEORGE C. WILLIAMSON. Two volumes. New York : The Macmillan Co. 1904,↩
- Italian Medals. By CORNELIUS VON FABRICZY. Translated by Mrs. GUSTAVUS W. HAMILTON. New York : E. P. Dutton & Co. 1904.↩
- Titian. By GEORG GRONAU. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1904.↩
- Verrocchio. By MAUD CRUTTWELL. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1904.↩
- The Life and Art of Sandro Botticelli. By JULIA CARTWRIGHT (Mrs. Ady). New York : E. P. Dutton & Co. 1904.↩
- Rubens. By MAX ROOSES. TWO volumes. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippineott Co. 1904.↩
- William Blake: A Study of his Life and Art Work. By IRENE LANGRIDGE. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1904.↩
- Impressionist Painting: its Genesis and Development. By WYNFOKD DEWHURST. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1904.↩
- French Painting in the Sixteenth Century. By L. DIMIER. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1904.↩