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PROMENADES OF AN IMPRESSIONIST
By JAMES HUNEKER
BOOKS BY JAMES HUNEKER
Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
Promenades of an Impressionist. 12mo, (_Postage_ 15 cents_), _net_, $1.50.
Egoists: A Book of Supermen. 12mo, _net_, $1.50.
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Mezzotints in Modern Music. 12mo, $1.50.
Chopin: The Man and His Music. With Portrait. l2mo, $2.00.
Visionaries. 12mo, $1.50.
Melomaniacs. 12mo, $1.50
TO: FREDERICK JAMES GREGG
-“Let us promenade our prejudices.”–Stendhal(?)
I. PAUL CEZANNE
II. ROPS THE ETCHER
V. EUGENE CARRIERE
VIII. SIX SPANIARDS:
X. BLACK AND WHITE:
XII. A NEW STUDY OF WATTEAU
XIII. GAUGUIN AND TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
XIV. LITERATURE AND ART
XV. MUSEUM PROMENADES:
PICTURES AT THE HAGUE
THE MESDAG MUSEUM
HALS OF HAARLEM
PICTURES IN AMSTERDAM
ART IN ANTWERP
MUSEUMS OF BRUSSELS
BRUGES THE BEAUTIFUL
THE MOREAU MUSEUM
PICTURES IN MADRID
EL GRECO AT TOLEDO
VELASQUEZ IN THE PRADO
PROMENADES OF AN IMPRESSIONIST
I. PAUL CEZANNE
After prolonged study of the art shown at the Paris Autumn Salon you ask yourself: This whirlpool of jostling ambitions, crazy colours, still crazier drawing and composition–whither does it tend? Is there any strain of tendency, any central current to be detected? Is it young genius in the raw, awaiting the sunshine of success to ripen its somewhat terrifying gifts? Or is the exhibition a huge, mystifying _blague_? What, you ask, as you apply wet compresses to your weary eyeballs, blistered by dangerous proximity to so many blazing canvases, does the Autumn Salon mean to French art?
There are many canvases the subjects of which are more pathologic than artistic, subjects only fit for the confessional or the privacy of the clinic. But, apart from these disagreeable episodes, the main note of the Salon is a riotous energy, the noisy ebullition of a gang of students let loose in the halls of art. They seem to rush by you, yelling from sheer delight in their lung power, and if you are rudely jostled to the wall, your toes trod upon and your hat clapped down on your ears, you console yourself with the timid phrase: Youth must have its fling.
And what a fling! Largely a flinging of paint pots in the sacred features of tradition. It needs little effort of the imagination to see hovering about the galleries the faces of–no, not Gerome, Bonnat, Jules Lefevre, Cabanel, or any of the reverend _seigneurs_ of the old Salon–but the reproachful countenances of Courbet, Manet, Degas, and Monet; for this motley-wearing crew of youngsters are as violently radical, as violently secessionistic, as were their immediate forebears. Each chap has started a little revolution of his own, and takes no heed of the very men from whom he steals his thunder, now sadly hollow in the transposition. The pretty classic notion of the torch of artistic tradition gently burning as it is passed on from generation to generation receives a shock when confronted by the methods of the hopeful young anarchs of the Grand Palais. Defiance of all critical canons at any cost is their shibboleth. Compared to their fulgurant colour schemes the work of Manet, Monet, and Degas pales and retreats into the Pantheon of the past. They are become classic. Another king has usurped their throne–his name is Paul Cezanne.
No need now to recapitulate the story of the New Salon and the defection from it of these Independents. It is a fashion to revolt in Paris, and no doubt some day there will arise a new group that will start the August Salon or the January Salon.
“Independent of the Independents” is a magnificent motto with which to assault any intrenched organisation.
If riotous energy is, as I have said, the chief note of many of these hot, hasty, and often clever pictures, it must be sadly stated that of genuine originality there are few traces. To the very masters they pretend to revile they owe everything. In vain one looks for a tradition older than Courbet; a few have attempted to stammer in the suave speech of Corot and the men of Fontainebleau; but 1863, the year of the _Salon des Refuses_, is really the year of their artistic ancestor’s birth. The classicism of Lebrun, David, Ingres, Prudhon; the romanticism of Gericault, Delacroix, Decamps; the tender poetry of those true _Waldmenschen_, Millet, Dupre, Diaz, Daubigny, or of that wild heir of Giorgione and Tiepolo, the marvellous colour virtuoso who “painted music,” Monticelli–all these men might never have been born except for their possible impact upon the so-called “Batignolles” school. Alas! such ingratitude must rankle. To see the major portion of this band of young painters, with talent in plenty, occupying itself in a frantic burlesque of second-hand Cezannes, with here and there a shallow Monet, a faded Renoir, an affected Degas, or an impertinent Gauguin, must be mortifying to the older men.
And now we reach the holy precincts. If ardent youths sneered at the lyric ecstasy of Renoir, at the severe restraint of Chavannes, at the poetic mystery of Carriere, their lips were hushed as they tiptoed into the Salle Cezanne. Sacred ground, indeed, we trod as we gazed and wondered before these crude, violent, sincere, ugly, and bizarre canvases. Here was the very hub of the Independents’ universe. Here the results of a hard-labouring painter, without taste, without the faculty of selection, without vision, culture–one is tempted to add, intellect–who with dogged persistency has painted in the face of mockery, painted portraits, landscapes, flowers, houses, figures, painted everything, painted himself. And what paint! Stubborn, with an instinctive hatred of academic poses, of the atmosphere of the studio, of the hired model, of “literary,” or of mere digital cleverness, Cezanne has dropped out of his scheme harmony, melody, beauty–classic, romantic, symbolic, what you will!–and doggedly represented the ugliness of things. But there is a brutal strength, a tang of the soil that is bitter, and also strangely invigorating, after the false, perfumed boudoir art of so many of his contemporaries.
Think of Bouguereau and you have his antithesis in Cezanne–Cezanne whose stark figures of bathers, male and female, evoke a shuddering sense of the bestial. Not that there is offence intended in his badly huddled nudes; he only delineates in simple, naked fashion the horrors of some undressed humans. His landscapes are primitive though suffused by perceptible atmosphere; while the rough architecture, shambling figures, harsh colouring do not quite destroy the impression of general vitality. You could not say with Walt Whitman that his stunted trees were “uttering joyous leaves of dark green.” They utter, if anything, raucous oaths, as seemingly do the self-portraits–exceedingly well modelled, however. Cezanne’s still-life attracts by its whole-souled absorption; these fruits and vegetables really savour of the earth. Chardin interprets still-life with realistic beauty; if he had ever painted an onion it would have revealed a certain grace. When Paul Cezanne paints an onion you smell it. Nevertheless, he has captured the affections of the rebels and is their god. And next season it may be some one else.
It may interest readers of Zola’s L’Oeuvre to learn about one of the characters, who perforce sat for his portrait in that clever novel (a direct imitation of Goncourt’s Manette Salomon). Paul Cezanne bitterly resented the liberty taken by his old school friend Zola. They both hailed from Aix, in Provence. Zola went up to Paris; Cezanne remained in his birthplace but finally persuaded his father to let him study art at the capital. His father was both rich and wise, for he settled a small allowance on Paul, who, poor chap, as he said, would never earn a franc from his paintings. This prediction was nearly verified. Cezanne was almost laughed off the artistic map of Paris. Manet they could stand, even Claude Monet; but Cezanne–communard and anarchist he must be (so said the wise ones in official circles), for he was such a villainous painter! Cezanne died, but not before his apotheosis by the new crowd of the Autumn Salon. We are told by admirers of Zola how much he did for his neglected and struggling fellow-townsman; how the novelist opened his arms to Cezanne. Cezanne says quite the contrary. In the first place he had more money than Zola when they started, and Zola, after he had become a celebrity, was a great man and very haughty.
“A mediocre intelligence and a detestable friend” is the way the prototype of Claude Lantier puts the case. “A bad book and a completely false one,” he added, when speaking to the painter Emile Bernard on the disagreeable theme. Naturally Zola did not pose his old friend for the entire figure of the crazy impressionist, his hero, Claude. It was a study composed of Cezanne, Bazille, and one other, a poor, wretched lad who had been employed to clean Manet’s studio, entertained artistic ambitions, but hanged himself. The conversations Cezanne had with Zola, his extreme theories of light, are all in the novel–by the way, one of Zola’s most finished efforts. Cezanne, an honest, hard-working man, bourgeois in habits if not by temperament, was grievously wounded by the treachery of Zola; and he did not fail to denounce this treachery to Bernard.
Paul Cezanne was born January 19, 1839. His father was a rich bourgeois, and while he was disappointed when his son refused to prosecute further his law studies, he, being a sensible parent and justly estimating Paul’s steadiness of character, allowed him to go to Paris in 1862, giving him an income of a hundred and fifty francs a month, which was shortly after doubled. With sixty dollars a month an art student of twenty-three could, in those days, live comfortably, study at leisure, and see the world. Cezanne from the start was in earnest. Instinctively he realised that for him was not the rapid ascent of the rocky path that leads to Parnassus. He mistrusted his own talent, though not his powers of application. At first he frequented the Academie Suisse, where he encountered as fellow-workers Pissarro and Guillaumin. He soon transferred his easel to the Beaux-Arts and became an admirer of Delacroix and Courbet. It seems strange in the presence of a Cezanne picture to realise that he, too, suffered his little term of lyric madness and wrestled with huge mythologic themes–giant men carrying off monstrous women. Connoisseurs at the sale of Zola’s art treasures were astonished by the sight of a canvas signed Cezanne, the subject of which was L’Enlevement, a romantic subject, not lacking in the spirit of Delacroix. The Courbet influence persisted, despite the development of the younger painter in other schools. Cezanne can claim Courbet and the Dutchmen as artistic ancestors.
When Cezanne arrived in Paris the first comrade to greet him was Zola. The pair became inseparable; they fought for naturalism, and it was to Cezanne that Zola dedicated his _Salons_ which are now to be found in a volume of essays on art and literature bearing the soothing title of Mes Haines. Zola, pitching overboard many friends, wrote his famous eulogy of Manet in the _Evenement_, and the row he raised was so fierce that he was forced to resign as art critic from that journal. The fight then began in earnest. The story is a thrice-told one. It may be read in Theodore Duret’s study of Manet and, as regards Cezanne, in the same critic’s volume on Impressionism. Cezanne exhibited in 1874 with Manet and the rest at the impressionists’ salon, held at the studio of Nadar the photographer. He had earlier submitted at once to Manet’s magic method of painting, but in 1873, at Auvers-sur-Oise, he began painting in the _plein air_ style and with certain modifications adhered to that manner until the time of his death. The amazing part of it all is that he produced for more than thirty years and seldom sold a canvas, seldom exhibited. His solitary appearance at an official salon was in 1882, and he would not have succeeded then if it had not been for his friend Guillaumin, a member of the selecting jury, who claimed his rights and passed in, amid execrations, both mock and real, a portrait by Cezanne.
Called a _communard_ in 1874, Cezanne was saluted with the title of anarchist in 1904, when his vogue had begun; these titles being a species of official nomenclature for all rebels. Thiers, once President of the French Republic, made a _bon mot_ when he exclaimed: “A Romantic–that is to say, Communist!” During his entire career this mild, reserved gentleman from Aix came under the ban of the critics and the authorities, for he had shouldered his musket in 1871, as did Manet, as did Bazille,–who, like Henri Regnault, was killed in a skirmish.
His most virulent enemies were forced to admit that Edouard Manet had a certain facility with the brush; his quality and beauty of sheer paint could not be winked away even by Albert Wolff. But to Cezanne there was no quarter shown. He was called the “Ape of Manet”; he was hissed, cursed, abused; his canvases were spat upon, and as late as 1902, when M. Roujon, the Director of the Beaux-Arts, was asked by Octave Mirbeau to decorate Cezanne, he nearly fainted from astonishment. Cezanne! That barbarian! The amiable director suggested instead the name of Claude Monet. Time had enjoyed its little whirligig with that great painter of vibrating light and water, but Monet blandly refused the long-protracted honour. Another anecdote is related by M. Duret. William II of Germany in 1899 wished to examine with his own eyes, trained by the black, muddy painting of Germany, the canvases of Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne, and Manet, acquired by Director Tschudi for the Berlin National Gallery. He saw them all except the Cezanne. Herr Tschudi feared that the Parisian fat would be in the imperial fire if the Cezanne picture appeared. So he hid it. As it was his Majesty nodded in emphatic disapproval of the imported purchases. If he had viewed the Cezanne!
At first blush, for those whose schooling has been academic, the Cezanne productions are shocking. Yet his is a personal vision, though a heavy one. He has not a facile brush; he is not a great painter; he lacks imagination, invention, fantasy; but his palette is his own. He is a master of gray tones, and his scale is, as Duret justly observes, a very intense one. He avoids the anecdote, historic or domestic. He detests design, prearranged composition. His studio is an open field, light the chief actor of his palette. He is never conventionally decorative unless you can call his own particular scheme decorative. He paints what he sees without flattery, without flinching from any ugliness. Compared with him Courbet is as sensuous as Correggio. He does not seek for the correspondences of light with surrounding objects or the atmosphere in which Eugene Carriere bathes his portraits, Rodin his marbles. The Cezanne picture does not modulate, does not flow; is too often hard, though always veracious–Cezannes veracity, be it understood. But it is an inescapable veracity. There is, too, great vitality and a peculiar reserved passion, like that of a Delacroix _a ribbers_, and in his still-life he is as great even as Manet.
His landscapes are real, though without the subtle poetry of Corot or the blazing lyricism of Monet. He hails directly from the Dutch: Van der Near, in his night pieces. Yet no Dutchman ever painted so uncompromisingly, so close to the border line that divides the rigid definitions of old-fashioned photography–the “new” photography hugs closely the mellow mezzotint–and the vision of the painter. An eye–nothing more, is Cezanne. He refuses to see in nature either a symbol or a sermon. Withal his landscapes are poignant in their reality. They are like the grill age one notes in ancient French country houses–little caseate cut in the windows through which you may see in vivid outline a little section of the landscape. Cezanne marvellously renders certain surfaces, china, fruit, tapestry.
Slowly grew his fame as a sober, sincere, unaffected workman of art. Disciples rallied around him. He accepted changing fortunes with his accustomed equanimity. Maurice Denis painted for the Champ de Mars Salon of 1901 a picture entitled Homage a Cezanne, after the well-known _hommages_ of Fantin-Latour. This _homage_ had its uses. The disciples became a swelling, noisy chorus, and in 1904 the Cezanne room was thronged by overheated enthusiasts who would have offered violence to the first critical dissident. The older men, the followers of Monet, Manet, Degas, and Whistler, talked as if the end of the world had arrived. Art is a serious affair in Paris. However, after Cezanne appeared the paintings of that half-crazy, unlucky genius, Vincent van Gogh, and of the gifted, brutal Gauguin. And in the face of such offerings Cezanne may yet, by reason of his moderation, achieve the unhappy fate of becoming a classic. He is certainly as far removed from Van Gogh and Gauguin on the one side as he is from Manet and Courbet on the other. Huysmans does not hesitate to assert that Cezanne contributed more to accelerate the impressionist movement than Manet. Paul Cezanne died in Aix, in Provence, October 23, 1906.
Emile Bernard, an admirer, a quasi-pupil of Cezanne’s and a painter of established reputation, discoursed at length in the _Mercure de France_ upon the methods and the man. His anecdotes are interesting. Without the genius of Flaubert, Cezanne had something of the great novelist’s abhorrence of life–fear would be a better word. He voluntarily left Paris to immure himself in his native town of Aix, there to work out in peace long-planned projects, which would, he believed, revolutionise the technique of painting. Whether for good or evil, his influence on the younger men in Paris has been powerful, though it is now on the wane. How far they have gone astray in imitating him is the most significant thing related by Emile Bernard, a friend of Paul Gauguin and a member of his Pont-Aven school.
In February, 1904, Bernard landed in Marseilles after a trip to the Orient. A chance word told him that there had been installed an electric tramway between Marseilles and Aix. Instantly the name of Cezanne came to his memory; he had known for some years that the old painter was in Aix. He resolved to visit him, and fearing a doubtful reception he carried with him a pamphlet he had written in 1889, an eulogium of the painter. On the way he asked his fellow-travellers for Cezanne’s address, but in vain; the name was unknown. In Aix he met with little success. Evidently the fame of the recluse had not reached his birthplace. At last Bernard was advised to go to the Mayor’s office, where he would find an electoral list. Among the voters he discovered a Paul Cezanne, who was born January 19, 1839, who lived at 25 Rue Boulegon. Bernard lost no time and reached a simple dwelling house with the name of the painter on the door. He rang. The door opened. He entered and mounted a staircase. Ahead of him, slowly toiling upward, was an old man in a cloak and carrying a portfolio. It was Cezanne. After he had explained the reason for his visit, the old painter cried: “You are Emile Bernard! You are a maker of biographies! Signac”–an impressionist–“told me of you. You are also a painter?” Bernard, who had been painting for years, and was a friend of Signac, was nonplussed at his sudden literary reputation, but he explained the matter to Cezanne, who, however, was in doubt until he saw later the work of his admirer.
He had another atelier a short distance from the town; he called it “The Motive.” There, facing Mount Sainte-Victoire, he painted every afternoon in the open; the majority of his later landscapes were inspired by the views in that charming valley. Bernard was so glad to meet Cezanne that he moved to Aix.
In Cezanne’s studio at Aix Bernard encountered some extraordinary studies in flower painting and three death heads; also monstrous nudes, giant-like women whose flesh appeared parboiled. On the streets Cezanne was always annoyed by boys or beggars; the former were attracted by his bohemian exterior and to express their admiration shouted at him or else threw stones; the beggars knew their man to be easy and were rewarded by small coin. Although Cezanne lived like a bachelor, his surviving sister saw that his household was comfortable. His wife and son lived in Paris and often visited him. He was rich; his father, a successful banker at Aix, had left him plenty of money; but a fanatic on the subject of art, ceaselessly searching for new tonal combinations, he preferred a hermit’s existence. In Aix he was considered eccentric though harmless. His pride was doubled by a morbid shyness. Strangers he avoided. So sensitive was he that once when he stumbled over a rock Bernard attempted to help him by seizing his arm. A terrible scene ensued. The painter, livid with fright, cursed the unhappy young Parisian and finally ran away. An explanation came when the housekeeper told Bernard that her master was a little peculiar. Early in life he had been kicked by some rascal and ever afterward was nervous. He was very irritable and not in good health.
In Bernard’s presence he threw a bust made of him by Solari to the ground, smashing it. It didn’t please him. In argument he lost his temper, though he recovered it rapidly. Zola’s name was anathema. He said that Daumier drank too much; hence his failure to attain veritable greatness. Cezanne worked from six to ten or eleven in the morning at his atelier; then he breakfasted, repaired to the “Motive,” there to remain until five in the evening. Returning to Aix, he dined and retired immediately. And he had kept up this life of toil and abnegation for years. He compared himself to Balzac’s Frenhofer (in The Unknown Masterpiece), who painted out each day the work of the previous day. Cezanne adored the Venetians–which is curious–and admitted that he lacked the power to realise his inward vision; hence the continual experimenting. He most admired Veronese, and was ambitious of being received at what he called the “Salon de Bouguereau.” The truth is, despite Cezanne’s long residence in Paris, he remained provincial to the end; his father before becoming a banker had been a hairdresser, and his son was proud of the fact. He never concealed it. He loved his father’s memory and had wet eyes when he spoke of him.
Bernard thinks that the vision of his master was defective; hence the sometime shocking deformations he indulged in. “His _optique_ was more in his brain than in his eye.” He lacked imagination absolutely, and worked slowly, laboriously, his method one of excessive complication. He began with a shadow, then a touch, superimposing tone upon tone, modelling his paint somewhat like Monticelli, but without a hint of that artist’s lyricism. Sober, without rhetoric, a realist, yet with a singularly rich and often harmonious palette, Cezanne reported faithfully what his eyes told him.
It angered him to see himself imitated and he was wrathful when he heard that his still-life pictures were praised in Paris. “That stuff they like up there, do they? Their taste must be low,” he would repeat, his eyes sparkling with malice. He disliked the work of Paul Gauguin and repudiated the claim of being his artistic ancestor. “He did not understand me,” grumbled Cezanne. He praised Thomas Couture, who was, he asserted, a true master, one who had formed such excellent pupils as Courbet, Manet, and Puvis. This rather staggered Bernard, as well it might; the paintings of Couture and Cezanne are poles apart.
He had, he said, wasted much time in his youth–particularly in literature. A lettered man, he read to Bernard a poem in imitation of Baudelaire, one would say very Baudelairian. He had begun too late, had submitted himself to other men’s influence, and wished for half a century that he might “realise”–his favourite expression–his theories. When he saw Bernard painting he told him that his palette was too restricted; he needed at least twenty colours. Bernard gives the list of yellows, reds, greens, and blues, with variations. “Don’t make Chinese images like Gauguin,” he said another time. “All nature must be modelled after the sphere, cone, and cylinder; as for colour, the more the colours harmonise the more the design becomes precise.” Never a devotee of form–he did not draw from the model–his philosophy can be summed up thus: Look out for the contrasts and correspondence of tones, and the design will take care of itself. He hated “literary” painting and art criticism. He strongly advised Bernard to stick to his paint and let the pen alone. The moment an artist begins to explain his work he is done for; painting is concrete, literature deals with the abstract. He loved music, especially Wagner’s, which he did not understand, but the sound of Wagner’s name was sympathetic, and that had at first attracted him! Pissarro he admired for his indefatigable labours. Suffering from diabetes, which killed him, his nervous tension is excusable. He was in reality an amiable, kind-hearted, religious man. Above all, simple. He sought for the simple motive in nature. He would not paint a Christ head because he did not believe himself a worthy enough Christian. Chardin he studied and had a theory that the big spectacles and visor which the Little Master (the Velasquez of vegetables) wore had helped his vision. Certainly the still-life of Cezanne’s is the only modern still-life that may be compared to Chardin’s; not Manet, Vollon, Chase has excelled this humble painter of Aix. He called the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts the “Bozards,” and reviled as farceurs the German secessionists who imitated him. He considered Ingres, notwithstanding his science, a small painter in comparison with the Venetians and Spaniards.
A painter by compulsion, a contemplative rather than a creative temperament, a fumbler and seeker, nevertheless Paul Cezanne has formed a school, has left a considerable body of work. His optic nerve was abnormal, he saw his planes leap or sink on his canvas; he often complained, but his patience and sincerity were undoubted. Like his friend Zola his genius–if genius there is in either man–was largely a matter of protracted labour, and has it not been said that genius is a long labour?
From the sympathetic pen of Emile Bernard we learn of a character living in the real bohemia of Paris painters who might have figured in any of the novels referred to, or, better still, might have been interpreted by Victor Hugo or Ivan Turgenieff. But the Frenchman would have made of Pere Tanguy a species of poor Myriel; the Russian would have painted him as he was, a saint in humility, springing from the soil, the friend of poor painters, a socialist in theory, but a Christian in practice. After following the humble itinerary of his life you realise the uselessness of “literary” invention. Here was character for a novelist to be had for the asking. The Crainquebille of Anatole France occurs to the lover of that writer after reading Emile Bernard’s little study of Father Tanguy.
His name was Julien Tanguy. He was born in 1825 at Pledran, in the north of France. He was a plasterer when he married. The young couple, accustomed to hardships of all kinds, left Saint-Brieuc for Paris. This was in 1860. After various vicissitudes the man became a colour grinder in the house of Edouard, Rue Clauzel. The position was meagre. The Tanguys moved up in the social scale by accepting the job of concierge somewhere on the Butte Montmartre. This gave Pere Tanguy liberty, his wife looking after the house. He went into business on his own account, vending colours in the quarter and the suburbs. He traversed the country from Argenteuil to Barbizon, from Ecouen to Sarcelle. He met Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, all youthful and confident and boiling over with admiration for Corot, Courbet, and Millet. They patronised the honest, pleasant pedlar of colours and brushes, and when they didn’t have the money he trusted them. It was his prime quality that he trusted people. He cared not enough for money, as his too often suffering wife averred, and his heart, always on his sleeve, he was an easy mark for the designing. This supreme simplicity led him into joining the Communists in 1871, and then he had a nasty adventure. One day, while dreaming on sentry duty, a band from Versailles suddenly descended upon the outposts. Pere Tanguy lost his head. He could not fire on a fellow-being, and he threw away his musket. For this act of “treachery” he was sentenced to serve two years in the galleys at Brest. Released by friendly intervention he had still to remain without Paris for two years more. Finally, entering his beloved quarter he resumed his tranquil occupation, and hearing that the Maison Edouard had been moved from the Rue Clauzel he rented a little shop, where he sold material to artists, bought pictures, and entertained in his humble manner any friend or luckless devil who happened that way. Cezanne and Vignon were his best customers. Guillemin, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Oller, Messurer, Augustin, Signac, De Lautrec, symbolists of the Pont-Aven school, neo-impressionists, and the young _fumistes_ of schools as yet unborn, revolutionaries with one shirt to their back, swearing at the official _Salon_ and also swearing by the brotherhood of man (with a capital), assembled in this dingy old shop. Tanguy was a rallying point. He was full of the milk of human kindness, and robbed himself to give a worthless fellow with a hard-luck story some of the sous that should have gone to his wife. Fortunately she was a philosopher as well as an admirable housekeeper. If the rent was paid and there was some soup-meat for dinner she was content. More she could not expect from a man who gave away with both hands. But–and here is the curious part of this narrative of M. Bernard’s–Tanguy was the only person in Paris who bought and owned pictures by Cezanne. He had dozens of his canvases stacked away in the rear of his establishment–Cezanne often parted with a canvas for a few francs. When Tanguy was hard up he would go to some discerning amateur and sell for two hundred francs pictures that to-day bring twenty thousand francs. Tanguy hated to sell, especially his Cezannes. Artists came to see them. His shop was the scene of many a wordy critical battle. Gauguin uttered the paradox, “Nothing so resembles a daub as a masterpiece,” and the novelist Elemir Bourges cried, “This is the painting of a vintager!” Alfred Stevens roared in the presence of the Cezannes, Anquetin admired; but, as Bernard adds, Jacques Blanche bought. So did Durand-Ruel, who has informed me that a fine Cezanne to-day is a difficult fish to hook. The great public won’t have him, and the amateurs who adore him jealously hold on to their prizes.
The socialism of Pere Tanguy was of a mild order. He pitied with a Tolstoyan pity the sufferings of the poor. He did not hate the rich, nor did he stand at street corners preaching the beauties of torch and bomb. A simple soul, uneducated, not critical, yet with an instinctive _flair_ for the coming triumphs of his young men, he espoused the cause of his clients because they were poverty-stricken, unknown, and revolutionists–an aesthetic revolution was his wildest dream. He said of Cezanne that “Papa Cezanne always quits a picture before he finishes it. If he moves he lets his canvases lie in the vacated studio.” He no doubt benefited by this carelessness of the painter. Cezanne worked slowly, but he never stopped working; he left nothing to hazard, and, astonishing fact, he spent every morning at the Louvre. There he practised his daily scales, optically speaking, before taking up the brush for the day’s work. Many of Vincent von Gogh’s pictures Tanguy owned. This was about 1886. The eccentric, gifted Dutchman attracted the poor merchant by his ferocious socialism. He was, indeed, a ferocious temperament, working like a madman, painting with his colour tubes when he had no brushes, and literally living in the _boutique_ of Tanguy. The latter always read _Le Cri du Peuple_ and _L’Intransigeant_, and believed all he read. He did not care much for Van Gogh’s compositions, no doubt agreeing with Cezanne, who, viewing them for the first time, calmly remarked to the youth, “Sincerely, you paint like a crazy man.” A prophetic note! Van Gogh frequented a tavern kept by an old model, an Italian woman. It bore the romantic title of The Tambourine. When he couldn’t pay his bills he would cover the walls with furious frescoes, flowers of tropical exuberance, landscapes that must have been seen in a nightmare. He was painting at this time three pictures a day. He would part with a canvas at the extortionate price of a franc.
Tanguy was the possessor of a large portrait by Cezanne, done in his earliest manner. This he had to sell on account of pressing need. Dark days followed. He moved across the street into smaller quarters. The old crowd began to drift away; some died, some had become famous, and one, Van Gogh, shot himself in an access of mania. This was a shock to his friend. A second followed when Van Gogh’s devoted brother went mad. Good Father Tanguy, as he was affectionately called, sickened. He entered a hospital. He suffered from a cancerous trouble of the stomach. One day he said to his wife, who was visiting him: “I am bored here… I won’t die here… I mean to die in my own home.” He went home and died shortly afterward. In 1894 Octave Mirbeau wrote a moving article for the _Journal_ about the man who had never spoken ill of any one, who had never turned from his door a hungry person. The result was a sale organised at the Hotel Drouot, to which prominent artists and literary folk contributed works. Cazin, Guillemet, Gyp, Maufra, Monet, Luce, Pissarro, Rochegrosse, Sisley, Vauthier, Carrier-Belleuse, Berthe Morisot, Renoir, Jongkind, Raffaelli, *Helleu, Rodin, and many others participated in this noble charity, which brought the widow ten thousand francs. She soon died.
Van Gogh painted a portrait of Tanguy about 1886. It is said to belong to Rodin. It represents the naive man with his irregular features and placid expression of a stoic; not a distinguished face, but unmistakably that of a gentle soul, who had loved his neighbour better than himself (therefore he died in misery). He it was who may be remembered by those who knew him–and also a few future historians of the futility of things in general–as the man who first made known to Paris the pictures of the timid, obstinate Paul Cezanne. An odd fish, indeed, was this same Julien Tanguy, little father to painters.
II. ROPS THE ETCHER
That personality in art counts, next to actual genius, heavier than all other qualities, is such a truism that it is often forgotten. In the enormous mass of mediocre work which is turned out annually by artists of technical talent seldom is there encountered a strong, well-defined personality. Imitation has been called the bane of originality; suppress it as a factor, and nine-tenths of living painters, sculptors, etchers would have to shut up shop. The stencil is the support of many men who otherwise might have become useful citizens, shoemakers, tailors, policemen, or vice-presidents. For this reason the phrase “academic” should be more elastic in its meanings. There are academic painters influenced by Corot or Monticelli, as well as by David, Gros, or Meissonier. The “academic” Rodin has appeared in contemporary sculpture; the great Frenchman found for himself his formula, and the lesser men have appropriated it to their own uses. This is considered legitimate, though not a high order of art; however, the second-rate rules in the market-place, let the genius rage as he will. He must be tamed. He must be softened; his divine fire shaded by the friendly screens of more prudent, more conventional talent. Even among men of genius up on the heights it is the personality of each that enters largely into the equation of their work. No one can confuse Whistler the etcher with the etcher Rembrandt; the profounder is the Dutchman. Yet what individuality there is in the plates of the American! What personality! Now, Felicien Rops, the Belgian etcher, lithographer, engraver, designer, and painter, occupies about the same relative position to Honore Daumier as Whistler does to Rembrandt. How seldom you hear of Rops. Why? He was a man of genius, one of the greatest etchers and lithographers of his century, an artist with an intense personal line, a colossal workman and versatile inventor–why has he been passed over and inferior men praised?
His pornographic plates cannot be the only reason, because his representative work is free from licence or suggestion. Giulio Romano’s illustrations to Aretino’s sonnets are not held up as the representative art of this pupil of Raphael, nor are the vulgarities of Rowlandson, Hogarth, George Morland set against their better attempts. Collectors treasure the engravings of the eighteenth-century _editions des fermiers-generaux_ for their capital workmanship, not for their licentious themes. But Rops is always the Rops of the Pornocrates! After discussing him with some amateurs you are forced to realise that it is his plates in which he gives rein to an unparalleled flow of animal spirits and _gauloiserie_ that are the more esteemed. Rops the artist, with the big and subtle style, the etcher of the Sataniques, of Le Pendu, of La Buveuse d’Absinthe and half a hundred other masterpieces, is set aside for the witty illustrator, with the humour of a Rabelais and the cynicism of Chamfort. And even on this side of his genius he has never been excelled, the Japanese alone being his equals in daring of invention, while he tops them in the expression of broad humour.
In the Luxembourg galleries there is a picture of an interesting man, in an etcher’s atelier. It is the portrait of Rops by Mathey, and shows him examining at a window, through which the light pours in, a freshly pulled proof. It depicts with skill the intense expression upon his handsome face, the expression of an artist absolutely absorbed in his work. That is the real Rops. His master quality was intensity. It traversed like a fine keen flame his entire production from seemingly insignificant tail-pieces to his agonised designs, in which luxury and pain are inextricably commingled.
He was born at Namur, Belgium, July 10, 1833, and died at Essonnes, near Paris, August 23,1898. He was the son of wealthy parents, and on one side stemmed directly from Hungary. His grandfather was Rops Lajos, of the province called Alfod. The Maygar predominated. He was as proud and fierce as Goya. A fighter from the beginning, still in warrior’s harness at the close, when, “cardiac and impenitent,” as he put it, he died of heart trouble. He received at the hands of the Jesuits a classical education. A Latinist, he was erudite as were few of his artistic contemporaries. The mystic strain in him did not betray itself until his third period. He was an accomplished humourist and could generally cap Latin verses with D’Aurevilly or Huysmans. Tertullian’s De Cultu Feminarum he must have read, for many of his plates are illustrations of the learned Bishop of Carthage’s attitude toward womankind. The hot crossings of blood, Belgian and Hungarian, may be responsible for a peculiarly forceful, rebellious, sensual, and boisterous temperament.
Doubtless the three stadia of an artist’s career are the arbitrary classification of critics; nevertheless they are well marked in many cases. Balzac was a romantic, a realist, a mystic; Flaubert was alternately romantic and realist. Tolstoi was never a romantic, but a realist he was, and he is a mystic. Dostoievski, from whom he absorbed so much, taught him the formulas of his mysticism–though Tolstoi has never felt the life of the soul so profoundly as this predecessor. Ibsen passed through the three stages. Huysmans, never romantic, began as a realistic pessimist and ended as a pessimistic mystic. Felicien Rops could never have been a romantic, though the _macabre_ romanticism of 1830 may be found in his designs. A realist, brutal, bitter, he was in his youth; he saw the grosser facts of life, so often lamentable and tender, in the spirit of a Voltaire doubled by a Rabelais. There is honest and also shocking laughter in these early illustrations. A _fantaisiste_, graceful, delicate–and indelicate–emerged after the lad went up to Paris, as if he had stepped out of the eighteenth century. Rops summed up in his book plates, title-pages, and wood-cuts, illustrations done in a furious speed, all the elegance, the courtly corruption, and Boucher-like luxuriousness that may be detected in the moral _marquetrie_ of the Goncourts. He had not yet said, “Evil, be thou my Good,” nor had the mystic delirium of the last period set in. All his afternoons must have been those of a faun–a faun who with impeccable solicitude put on paper what he saw in the heart of the bosk or down by the banks of secret rivers. The sad turpitudes, the casuistry of concupiscence, the ironic discolourations and feverish delving into subterranean moral stratifications were as yet afar. He was young, handsome, with a lithe, vigorous body and the head of an aristocratic Mephistopheles, a head all profile, like the heads of Hungary–Hungary itself, which is all profile. Need we add that after the death of his father he soon wasted a fortune? But the reckless bohemian in him was subjugated by necessity. He set to work to earn his bread. Some conception of his labours for thirty-five years may be gleaned from the catalogue of his work by Erastene Ramiro (whose real name is Eugene Rodrigues). Nearly three thousand plates he etched, lithographed, or engraved, not including his paintings or his experiments in various mediums, such as _vernis mou_ and wood-engraving.
The coarse legends of old Flanders found in Rops their pictorial interpreter. Less cerebral in his abounding youth he made Paris laugh with his comical travesties of political persons, persons in high finance, and also by his shrewd eye for the homely traits in the life of the people. His street scenes are miracles of detail, satire, and fun. The one entitled Spring is the most noted. That legacy of hate, inherited from the 1830 poets, of the bourgeois, was a merry play for Rops. He is the third of the trinity of caricature artists, Daumier and Gavarni being the other two. The liberal pinch of Gallic salt in the earlier plates need not annoy one. Deliberately vulgar he never is, though he sports with things hallowed, and always goes out of his way to insult the religion he first professed. There is in this Satanist a religious _fond_; the very fierceness of his attacks, of his blasphemies, betrays the Catholic at heart. If he did not believe, why should he have displayed such continual scorn? No, Rops was not as sincere as his friends would have us believe. He made his Pegasus plod in too deep mud, and often in his most winged flights he darkened the blue with his satyr-like brutalities. But in the gay middle period his pages overflow with decorative Cupids and tiny devils, joyful girls, dainty amourettes, and Parisian _putti_–they blithely kick their legs over the edges of eternity, and smile as if life were a snowball jest or a game at forfeits. They are adorable. His women are usually strong-backed, robust Amazons, drawn with a swirling line and a Rubens-like fulness. They are conquerors. Before these majestic idols men prostrate themselves.
In his turbulent later visions there is no suspicion of the opium that gave its inspiration to Coleridge, Poe, De Quincey, James Thomson, or Baudelaire. The city of dreadful night shown us by Rops is the city through whose streets he has passed his life long. Not the dream cities of James Ensor or De Groux, the Paris of Rops is at once an abode of disillusionment, of mordant joys, of sheer ecstasy and morbid hallucinations. The opium of Rops is his imagination, aided by a manual dexterity that is extraordinary. He is a master of linear design. He is cold, deadly cold, but correct ever. Fabulous and absurd, delicious and abominable as he may be, his spirit sits critically aloft, never smiling. Impersonal as a toxicologist, he handles his poisonous acids with the gravity of a philosopher and the indifference of a destroying angel. There is a diabolic spleen more strongly developed in Rops than in any of his contemporaries, with the sole exception of Baudelaire, who inspired and spurred him on to astounding atrocities of the needle and acid. This diabolism, this worship of Satan and his works, are sincere in the etcher. A relic of rotten Romanticism, it glows like phosphorescent fire during his last period. The Church has in its wisdom employed a phrase for frigid depravity of the Rops kind, naming it “morose delectation.” Morose Rops became as he developed. His private life he hid. We know little or nothing of it save that he was not unhappy in his companionships or choice of friends. He loathed the promiscuous methods by which some men achieve admiration. But secret spleen there must have been–a twist of a painter’s wrist may expose his soul. He became a solitary and ate the bitter root of sin, for, cerebral as he is, his discovery of the human soul shows it as ill at ease before its maker. Flaubert has said that “the ignoble is the sublime of the lower slope.” But no man may sun himself on this slope by the flames of hell without his soul shrivelling away. Rodin, who admires Rops and has been greatly influenced by him; Rodin, as an artist superior to the Belgian, has revealed less preoccupation with the ignoble; at least, despite his excursions into questionable territory, he has never been carried completely away. He always returns to the sane, to the normal life; but over the volcanic landscapes of Rops are strewn many moral abysses.
He had no illusions as to the intelligence and sincerity of those men who, denying free-will, yet call themselves free-thinkers. Rops frankly made of Satan his chief religion. He is the psychologist of the exotic. Cruel, fantastic, nonchalant, and shivering atrociously, his female Satan worshippers go to their greedy master in *fatidical and shuddering attitudes; they submit to his glacial embrace. The acrid perfume of Rops’s maleficent genius makes itself manifest in his Sataniques. No longer are his women the embodiment of Corbiere’s “Eternel feminin de l’eternel jocrisse.” Ninnies, simperers, and simpletons have vanished. The poor, suffering human frame becomes a horrible musical instrument from which the artist extorts exquisite and sinister music. We turn our heads away, but the tune of cracking souls haunts our ear. As much to Rops as to Baudelaire, Victor Hugo could have said that he had evoked a new shudder. And singularly enough Rops is in these plates the voice of the mediaeval preacher crying out that Satan is alive, a tangible being, going about the earth devouring us; that Woman is a vase of iniquity, a tower of wrath, a menace, not a salvation. His readings of the early fathers and his pessimistic temperamental bent contributed to this truly morose judgment of his mother’s sex. He drives cowering to her corner, after her earlier triumphs, his unhappy victim of love, absinthe, and diabolism. Not for an instant does he participate personally in the strained voluptuousness or terrific chastisements of his designs. He has all the old monachal contempt of woman. He is cerebrally chaste. Huysmans, in his admirable essay on Rops, wrote, “Car il n’y a de reellement obscenes que les gens chastes”; which is a neat bit of special pleading and quite sophistical. Rops did not lead the life of a saint, though his devotion to his art was Balzacian. It would be a more subtle sophistry to quote Paul Bourget’s aphorism. “There is,” he writes, “from the metaphysical observer’s point of view, neither disease nor health of the soul; there are only psychological states.” The _etats d’ames_ of Felicien Rops, then, may or may not have been morbid. But he has contrived that his wit in its effect upon his spectators is too often profoundly depressing and morbid and disquieting.
The triumphant chorus of Rops’s admirers comprises the most critical names in France and Italy: Barbey d’Aurevilly, J.K. Huysmans, Pradelle, Josephin Peladan–once the _Sar_ of Babylonian fame–Eugene Demolder, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian poet; Camille Lemonnier, Champsaur, Arsene Alexandre, Fromentin, Vittorio Pica, De Heredia, Mallarme, Octave Uzanne, Octave Mirbeau, the biographer Ramiro and Charles Baudelaire. The last first recognised him, though he never finished the projected study of him as man and artist. In the newly published letters (1841-66) of Baudelaire there is one addressed to Rops, who saw much of the unhappy poet during his disastrous sojourn in Brussels. It was the author of Les Fleurs du Mal who made the clever little verse about “Ce tant bizarre Monsieur Rops… Qui n’est pas un grand prix de Rome, mais dont le talent est haut, comme la pyramide de Cheops.”
A French critic has called Rops “a false genius,” probably alluding to the malign characters of the majority of his engraved works rather than to his marvellous and fecund powers of invention. Perverse idealist as he was, he never relaxed his pursuit of the perfection of form. He tells us that in 1862 he went to Paris, after much preliminary skirmishing in Belgian reviews and magazines, to “learn his art” with Bracquemond and Jacquemart, both of whom he never ceased praising. He was associated with Daubigny, painter and etcher, and with Courbet, Flameng, and Therond.
He admired Calmatta and his school–Bal, Franck, Biot, Meunier, Flameng. He belonged to the International Society of Aquafortistes. He worked in aquatint and successfully revived the old process, _vernis mou_. A sober workman, he spent at least fourteen hours a day at his desk. Being musical, he designed some genre pieces, notably that of the truthfully observed Bassoonist. And though not originating he certainly carried to the pitch of the artistically ludicrous those progressive pictures of goats dissolving into pianists; of Liszt tearing passion and grand pianos into tatters. He has contributed to the gaiety of nations with his celebrated design: Ma fille! Monsieur Cabanel, which shows a harpy-like mother presenting her nude daughter as a model for that painter. The malicious ingenuity of Rops never failed him. He produced for years numerous anecdotes in black and white. The elasticity of his line, its variety and richness, the harmonies, elliptical and condensed, of his designs; the agile, fiery movement, his handling of his velvety blacks, his tonal gradations, his caressing touch by which the metal reproduced muscular crispations of his dry-point and the fat silhouettes of beautiful human forms, above all, his virile grasp which is revealed in his balanced ensembles–these prove him to be one of the masters of modern etching. And from his cynical yet truthful motto: “J’appelle un chat un chat,” he never swerved.
A student and follower of Jean Francois Millet, several landscapes and pastorals of Rops recall the French painter’s style. In his Belgian out-of-doors scenes and interiors the Belgian heredity of Rops projects itself unmistakably. Such a picture as Scandal, for example, might have been signed by Israels. Le Bout de Sillon is Millet, and beautifully drawn. The scheme is trite. Two peasants, a young woman and a young man holding a rope, exchange love vows. It is very simple, very expressive. His portraits of women, Walloons, and of Antwerp are solidly built, replete with character and quaint charm. Charming, too, is the portrait of his great-aunt. Scandal is an ambitious design. A group of women strongly differentiated as to types and ages are enjoying over a table their tea and a choice morsel of scandal. The situation is seized; it is a picture that appeals. Ghastly is his portrait of a wretched young woman ravaged by absinthe. Her lips are blistered by the wormwood, and in her fevered glance there is despair. Another delineation of disease, a grinning, skull-like head with a scythe back of it, is a tribute to the artist’s power of rendering the repulsive. His Messalina, Lassatta, La Femme au Cochon, and La Femme au Pantin should be studied. He has painted scissors grinders, flower girls, “old guards,” incantations, fishing parties, the rabble in the streets, broom-riding witches, apes, ivory and peacocks, and a notable figure piece, An Interment in the Walloon Country, which would have pleased Courbet.
It is in his incarnations of Satan that Rops is unapproachable. Satan Sowing the Tares of Evil is a sublime conception, truly Miltonic. The bony-legged demon strides across Paris. One foot is posed on Notre Dame. He quite touches the sky. Upon his head is a broad-brimmed peasant’s hat, Quaker in shape. Hair streams over his skeleton shoulders. His eyes are gleaming with infernal malice–it is the most diabolic face ever drawn of his majesty; not even Franz Stuck’s Satan has eyes so full of liquid damnation. Scattering miniature female figures, like dolls, to the winds, this monster passes over Paris, a baleful typhoon. The moral is not far to seek; indeed, there is generally a moral, sometimes an inverted one, in the Rops etchings. Order Reigns at Warsaw is a grim commentary on Russian politics quite opportune to-day. La Peine de Mort has been used by Socialists as a protest against capital punishment. Les Diables Froids personifies the impassible artist. It is a page torn from the book of hell. Rops had read Dante; he knew the meaning of the lines: “As the rill that runs from Bulicame to be portioned out amid the sinful women”; and more than once he explored the frozen circles of Gehenna. Victor Hugo was much stirred by the design, Le Pendu, which depicts a man’s corpse swinging under a huge bell in some vast and immemorial, raven-haunted, decaying tower, whose bizarre and gloomy outlines might have been created by the brain of a Piranesi. An apocalyptic imagination had Felicien Rops.
Poor “Fada”! The “innocent,” the inoffensive fool–as they christened that unfortunate man of genius, Adolphe Monticelli, in the dialect of the South, the slang of Marseilles–where he spent the last sixteen years of his life. The richest colourist of the nineteenth century, obsessed by colour, little is known of this Monticelli, even in these days when an artist’s life is subjected to inquisitorial methods. Few had written of him in English before W.E. Henley and W.C. Brownell. In France eulogised by Theophile Gautier, in favour at the court, admired by Diaz, Daubigny, Troyon, and Delacroix, his hopes were cracked by the catastrophe of the Franco-Prussian war. He escaped to Marseilles, there to die poor, neglected, half mad. Perhaps he was to blame for his failures; perhaps his temperament was his fate. Yet to-day his pictures are sought for as were those of Diaz two decades ago, though there was a tacit conspiracy among dealers and amateurs not to drag his merits too soon before the foot-lights. In 1900 at the Paris Exposition a collection of his works, four being representative, opened the eyes of critics and public alike. It was realised that Monticelli had not received his proper ranking in the nineteenth-century theatre of painting; that while he owed much to Watteau, to Turner, to Rousseau, he was a master who could stand or fall on his own merits. Since then the Monticelli pictures have been steadily growing in favour.
There is a Monticelli cult. America can boast of many of his most distinguished specimens, while the Louvre and the Luxembourg are without a single one. The Musee de Lille at Marseilles has several examples; the private collections of M. Delpiano at Cannes and a few collections in Paris make up a meagre list. The Comparative Exhibition in New York, 1904, revealed to many accustomed to overpraising Diaz and Fromentin the fact that Monticelli was their superior as a colourist, and a decorator of singularly fascinating characteristics, one who was not always a mere contriver of bacchanalian riots of fancy, but who could exhibit when at his best a _justesse_ of vision and a controlled imagination.
The dictionaries offer small help to the student as to the doings of this erratic painter. He was born October 24, 1824. He died June 29, 1886. He was of mixed blood, Italian and French. His father was a gauger, though Adolphe declared that he was an authentic descendant of the Crusader, Godefroy Monticelli, who married in 1100 Aurea Castelli, daughter of the Duca of Spoleto. Without doubt his Italian blood counted heavily in his work, but whether of noble issue matters little. Barbey d’Aurevilly and Villiers de l’Isle Adam, two men of letters, indulged in similar boasts, and no doubt in their poverty and tribulations the oriflamme of aristocracy which they bravely bore into the cafe life of Paris was a source of consolation to them. But it is with brains, not blood, that painters mix their pigments, and the legend of high birth can go with the other fictions reported by Henley that Monticelli was an illegitimate offshoot of the Gonzagas; that he was the natural son of Diaz; that Diaz kept him a prisoner for years, to “steal the secret of his colours.”
Like many another of his temperament, he had himself to thank for his woes, though it was a streak of ill-luck for him when the Prussians bore down on Paris. He was beginning to be known. A pupil of Raymond Aubert (1781-1857), he was at first a “fanatic of Raphael and Ingres.” Delacroix and his violently harmonised colour masses settled the future colourist. He met Diaz and they got on very well together. A Southerner, handsome, passionate, persuasive, dashing, with the eloquence of the meridional, Monticelli and his musical name made friends at court and among powerful artists. In 1870 he started on his walk of thirty-six days from Paris to Marseilles. He literally painted his way. In every inn he shed masterpieces. Precious gold dripped from his palette, and throughout the Rhone valley there are, it is whispered–by white-haired old men the memory of whose significant phrases awakes one in the middle of the night longing for the valley of Durance–that if a resolute, keen-eyed adventurer would traverse unostentatiously the route taken by Monticelli during his Odyssey the rewards might be great. It is an idea that grips one’s imagination, but unfortunately it is an idea that gripped the imagination of others thirty years ago. Not an _auberge_, hotel, or hamlet has been left unexplored. The fine-tooth comb of familiar parlance has been sedulously used by interested persons. If there are any Monticellis unsold nowadays they are for sale at the dealers’.
In him was incarnate all that we can conceive as bohemian, with a training that gave him the high-bred manner of a seigneur. He was a romantic, like his friend Felix Ziem–Ziem, Marcellin, Deboutin, and Monticelli represented a caste that no longer exists; bohemians, yes, but gentlemen, refined and fastidious. Yet, after his return to his beloved Marseilles, Monticelli led the life of an August vagabond. In his velvet coat, a big-rimmed hat slouched over his eyes, he patrolled the quays, singing, joking, an artless creature, so good-hearted and irresponsible that he was called “Fada,” more in affection than contempt. He painted rapidly, a picture daily, sold it on the _terrasses_ of the cafes for a hundred francs, and when he couldn’t get a hundred he would take sixty. Now one must pay thousands for a canvas. His most loving critic, Camille Mauclair, who, above any one, has battled valiantly for his art, tells us that Monticelli once took eighteen francs for a small canvas because the purchaser had no more in his pocket! In this manner he disposed of a gallery. He smoked happy pipes and sipped his absinthe–in his case as desperate an enemy as it had proved to De Musset. He would always doff his hat at the mention of Watteau or Rubens. They were his gods.
When Monticelli arrived in Marseilles after his tramp down from Paris he was literally in rags. M. Chave, a good Samaritan, took him to a shop and togged him out in royal raiment. They left for a promenade, and then the painter begged his friend to let him walk alone so as not to attenuate the effect he was bound to produce on the passersby, such a childish, harmless vanity had he. His delight was to gather a few chosen ones over a bottle of old vintage, and thus with spasmodic attempts at work his days rolled by. He was feeble, semi-paralysed. With the advent of bad health vanished the cunning of his hand. His paint coarsened, his colours became crazier. His pictures at this period were caricatures of his former art. Many of the early ones were sold as the productions of Diaz, just as to-day some Diazs are palmed off as Monticellis. After four years of decadence he died, repeating for months before his taking off: “Je viens de la lune.” He was one whose brain a lunar ray had penetrated; but this ray was transposed to a spectrum of gorgeous hues. Capable of depicting the rainbow, he died of the opalescence that clouded his glass of absinthe. _Pauvre Fada!_
It is only a coincidence, yet a curious one, that two such dissimilar spirits as Stendhal and Monticelli should have predicted their future popularity. Stendhal said: “About 1880 I shall be understood.” Monticelli said in 1870: “I paint for thirty years hence.” Both prophecies have been realised. After the exhibition at Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1890 Monticelli was placed by a few discerning critics above Diaz in quality of paint. In 1892 Mr. Brownell said of Monticelli in his French Art–a book that every student and amateur of painting should possess–that the touch of Diaz, patrician as it was, lacked the exquisiteness of Monticelli’s; though he admits the “exaggeration of the decorative impulse” in that master. For Henley Monticelli’s art was purely sensuous; “his fairy meadows and enchanted gardens are that sweet word ‘Mesopotamia’ in two dimensions.” Henley speaks of his “clangours of bronze and gold and scarlet” and admits that “there are moments when his work is as infallibly decorative as a Persian crock or a Japanese brocade.” D.S. MacColl, in his study of Nineteenth-Century Painting, gives discriminating praise: “Monticelli’s own exquisite sense of grace in women and invention in grouping add the positive new part without which his art would be the mannerising of Rousseau,” while Arthur Symons in his Studies in Seven Arts declares all Monticelli’s art “tends toward the effect of music… his colour is mood … his mood is colour.”
It remained, however, for Camille Mauclair, a Parisian critic in sympathy with the arts of design, literature, and music, to place Monticelli in his proper niche. This Mauclair has done with critical tact. In his Great French Painters, the bias of which is evidently strained in favour of the impressionistic school, in his L’Impressionisme, and in his monograph on Watteau this critic declares that Monticelli’s art “recalls Claude Lorraine a little and Watteau even more by its sentiment, and Turner and Bonington by its colour… His work has the same subtlety of gradations, the same division into fragments of tones (as in Watteau’s ‘Embarkment for Cythera’), the same variety of execution, which has sometimes the opaqueness of china and enamel and sometimes the translucence of precious stones or the brilliancy of glass, metal, or oxides and seems to be the result of some mysterious chemistry… Monticelli had an absolutely unique perception of tonalities, and his glance took in certain shades which had not been observed before, which the optic and chromatic science of the day has placed either by proof or hypothesis between the principal tones of the solar spectrum thirty years after Monticelli had fixed them. There is magic and high lyric poetry in his art.” I wrote of the Monticellis exhibited at the Comparative Exhibition in New York: “At the opposite end of the room there is A Summer Day’s Idyll, upon which Monticelli had squeezed all his flaming tubes. It seems orchestrated in crushed pomegranate, the light suffusing the reclining figures like a jewelled benediction. Marvellous, too, are the colour-bathed creatures in this No Man’s Land of drugged dreams… Do not the walls fairly vibrate with this wealth of fairy tints and fantasy?” But it must not be forgotten that he struck other chords besides blazing sun-worshipping. We often encounter landscapes of vaporous melancholy, twilights of reverie.
Monticelli once told an admiring young amateur that in his canvases “the objects are the decorations, the touches are the scales, and the light is the tenor,” thereby acknowledging himself that he felt colour as music. There was hyperaesthesia in his case; his eyes were protuberant and, like the ears of violinists, capable of distinguishing quarter tones, even sixteenths. There are affiliations with Watteau; the same gem-like style of laying on the thick pate, the same delight in fairy-like patches of paint to represent figures. In 1860 he literally resuscitated Watteau’s manner, adding a personal note and a richness hitherto unknown to French paint. Mauclair thinks that to Watteau can be traced back the beginnings of modern Impressionism; the division of tones, the juxtaposition of tonalities. Monticelli was the connecting link between Watteau and Monet. The same critic does not hesitate to name Monticelli as one of the great quartet of harmonists, Claude, Turner, Monet being the other three. Taine it was who voiced the philosophy of Impressionism when he announced in his Philosophie de l’Art that the principal personage in a picture is the light in which all things are plunged. Eugene Carriere also asserted that a “picture is the logical development of light.” Monticelli before him had said: “In a painting one must sound the _C_. Rembrandt, Rubens, Watteau, all the great ones have sounded the C.” His C, his key-note, was the magic touch of luminosity that dominated his picture. Like Berlioz, he adored colour for colour’s sake. He had a touch all Venetian in his relation of tones; at times he went in search of chromatic adventures, returning with the most marvellous trophies. No man before or since, not even those practitioners of dissonance and martyrs to the enharmonic scale, Cezanne, Gauguin, or Van Gogh, ever matched and modulated such widely disparate tints; no man before could extract such magnificent harmonies from such apparently irreconcilable tones. Monticelli thought in colour and was a master of orchestration, one who went further than Liszt.
The simple-minded Monticelli had no psychology to speak of–he was a reversion, a “throw back” to the Venetians, the decorative Venetians, and if he had possessed the money or the leisure–he hadn’t enough money to buy any but small canvases–he might have become a French Tiepolo, and perhaps the greatest decorative artist of France. Even his most delicate pictures are largely felt and sonorously executed; not “finished” in the studio sense, but complete–two different things.
Fate was against him, and the position he might have had was won by the gentle Puvis de Chavannes, who exhibited a genius for decorating monumental spaces. With his fiery vision, his brio of execution, his palette charged with jewelled radiance, Monticelli would have been the man to have changed the official interiors of Paris. His energy at one period was enormous, consuming, though short-lived–1865-75. His lack of self-control and at times his Italian superficiality, never backed by a commanding intellect, produced the Monticelli we know. In truth his soul was not complicated. He could never have attacked the psychology of Zarathustra, Hamlet, or Peer Gynt. A Salome from him would have been a delightfully decorative minx, set blithely dancing in some many-hued and enchanted garden of Armida. She would never have worn the air of hieratic lasciviousness with which Gustave Moreau inevitably dowered her. There was too much joy of the south in Monticelli’s bones to concern himself with the cruel imaginings of the Orient or the grisly visions of the north. He was Oriental _au fond_; but it was the Orientalism of the Thousand and One Nights. He painted scenes from the Decameron, and his _fetes galantes_ may be matched with Watteau’s in tone. His first period was his most graceful; ivory-toned languorous dames, garbed in Second Empire style, languidly stroll in charming parks escorted by fluttering Cupids or stately cavaliers. The “decorative impulse” is here at its topmost. In his second period we get the Decameron series, the episodes from Faust, the Don Quixote–recall, if you can, that glorious tableau with its Spanish group and the long, grave don and merry, rotund squire entering on the scene, a fantastic sky behind them.
Painted music! The ruins, fountains, statues, and mellow herbage abound in this middle period. The third is less known. Extravagance began to rule; scarlet fanfares are sounded; amethysts and emeralds sparkle; yet there is more thematic variety. Voluptuous, perfumed, and semi-tragic notes were uttered by this dainty poet of the carnival of life. The canvas glowed with more reverberating and infernal lights, but lyric ever. Technique, fabulous and feverish, expended itself on flowers that were explosions of colours, on seductive marines, on landscapes of a rhythmic, haunting beauty–the Italian temperament had become unleashed. Fire, gold, and purple flickered and echoed in Monticelli’s canvases. Irony, like an insinuating serpent, began to creep into this paradise of melting hues. The masterful gradations of tone became bewildered. Poison was eating the man’s nerves. He discarded the brush, and standing before his canvas he squeezed his tubes upon it, literally modelling his paint with his thumb until it almost assumed the relief of sculpture. What a touch he had! What a subtle prevision of modulations to be effected by the careless scratch of his nail or the whip of a knife’s edge! Remember, too, that originally he had been an adept in the art of design; he could draw as well as his peers. But he sacrificed form and observation and psychology to sheer colour. He, a veritable discoverer of tones–aided thereto by an abnormal vision–became the hasty improviser, who at the last daubed his canvases with a pasty mixture, as hot and crazy as his ruined soul. The end did not come too soon. A chromatic genius went under, leaving but a tithe of the gleams that illuminated his brain. Alas, poor Fada!
Rodin, the French sculptor, deserves well of our new century; the old one did so incontinently batter him. The anguish of his own Hell’s Portal he endured before he moulded its clay between his thick clairvoyant fingers. Misunderstood, therefore misrepresented, he with his pride and obstinacy aroused–the one buttressing the other–was not to be budged from his formulas and practice of sculpture. Then the world of art swung unwillingly and unamiably toward him, perhaps more from curiosity than conviction. Rodin became famous. And he is more misunderstood than ever. His very name, with its memory of Eugene Sue’s romantic rancour–you recall that impossible and diabolic Jesuit Rodin in The Mysteries of Paris?–has been thrown in his teeth. He has been called _ruse_, even a fraud; while the wholesale denunciation of his work as erotic is unluckily still green in our memory. The sculptor, who in 1877 was accused of “faking” his life-like Age of Brass–now at the Luxembourg–by taking a mould from the living model, also experienced the discomfiture of being assured some years later that, not knowing the art of modelling, his statue of Balzac was only an evasion of difficulties. And this to the man who had in the interim wrought so many masterpieces.
To give him his due he stands prosperity not quite as well as he did poverty. In every great artist there is a large area of self-esteem; it is the reservoir which he must, during years of drought and defeat, draw upon to keep his soul fresh. Without the consoling fluid of egoism, genius must perish in the dust of despair. But fill this source to the brim, accelerate the speed of its current, and artistic deterioration may ensue. Rodin has been called, fatuously, the second Michael Angelo–as if there could ever be a replica of any human. He has been hailed as a modern Praxiteles. And he is often damned as a myopic decadent whose insensibility to pure line and deficiency in constructional power have been elevated by his admirers into sorry virtues. Yet is Rodin justly appraised? Do his friends not overdo their glorification, his critics their censure? Nothing so stales a demigod’s image as the perfumes burned before it by his worshippers; the denser the smoke the sooner crumble the feet of their idol.
However, in the case of Rodin the fates have so contrived their malicious game that at no point of his career has he been without the company of envy, chagrin, and slander. Often, when he had attained a summit, he would find himself thrust down into a deeper valley. He has mounted to triumphs and fallen to humiliations, but his spirit has never been quelled, and if each acclivity he scales is steeper, the air atop has grown purer, more stimulating, and the landscape spreads wider before him. He can say with Dante: “La montagna che drizza voi che il mondo fece torti.” Rodin’s mountain has always straightened in him what the world made crooked. The name of his mountain is Art. A born non-conformist, Rodin makes the fourth of that group of nineteenth-century artists–Richard Wagner, Henrik Ibsen, and Edouard Manet–who taught a deaf and blind world to hear and see and think and feel.
Is it not dangerous to say of a genius that his work alone should count, that his life is negligible? Though Rodin has followed Flaubert’s advice to artists to lead ascetic lives that their art might be the more violent, nevertheless his career, colourless as it may seem to those who better love stage players and the watery comedies of society–this laborious life of a poor sculptor–is not to be passed over if we are to make any estimate of his art. He, it is related, always becomes enraged at the word “inspiration,” enraged at the common notion that fire descends from heaven upon the head of the favoured neophyte of art. Rodin believes in but one inspiration–nature. He swears he does not invent, but copies nature. He despises improvisation, has contemptuous words for “fatal facility,” and, being a slow-moving, slow-thinking man, he admits to his councils those who have conquered art, not by assault, but by stealth and after years of hard work. He sympathises with Flaubert’s patient toiling days, he praises Holland because after Paris it seemed slow. “Slowness is a beauty,” he declared. In a word, Rodin has evolved a theory and practice of his art that is the outcome–like all theories, all techniques–of his own temperament. And that temperament is giant-like, massive, ironic, grave, strangely perverse at times; and it is the temperament of a magician doubled by that of a mathematician.
Books are written about him. De Maupassant describes him in Notre Coeur with picturesque precision. He is tempting as a psychologic study. He appeals to the literary, though he is not “literary.” His modelling arouses tempests, either of dispraise or idolatry. To see him steadily, critically, after a visit to his studios in Paris or Meudon, is difficult. If the master be there then you feel the impact of a personality that is as cloudy as the clouds about the base of a mountain and as impressive as the mountain. Yet a pleasant, unassuming, sane man, interested in his clay–absolutely–that is, unless you discover him to be more interested in humanity. If you watch him well you may find yourself well watched; those peering eyes possess a vision that plunges into your soul. And the soul this master of marbles sees as nude as he sees the human body. It is the union of artist and psychologist that places Rodin apart. These two arts he practises in a medium that has hitherto not betrayed potentialities for such almost miraculous performances. Walter Pater is quite right in maintaining that each art has its separate subject-matter; nevertheless, in the debatable province of Rodin’s sculpture we find strange emotional power, hints of the art of painting and a rare musical suggestiveness. But this is not playing the game according to the rules of Lessing and his Laocooen.
Let us drop this old aesthetic rule of thumb and confess that during the last century a new race of artists sprang up from some strange element and, like flying-fish, revealed to a wondering world their composite structures. Thus we find Berlioz painting with his instrumentation; Franz Liszt, Tschaikowsky, and Richard Strauss filling their symphonic poems with drama and poetry, and Richard Wagner inventing an art which he believed to embrace the seven arts. And there is Ibsen, who used the dramatic form as a vehicle for his anarchistic ideas; and Nietzsche, who was such a poet that he was able to sing a mad philosophy into life; and Rossetti, who painted poems and made poetry that is pictorial. Sculpture was the only art that had resisted this universal disintegration, this imbroglio of the arts. No sculptor before Rodin had dared to break the line, dared to shiver the syntax of stone. For sculpture is a static, not a dynamic art–is it not? Let us observe the rules, though we preserve the chill spirit of the cemetery. What Mallarme attempted to do with French poetry Rodin accomplished in clay. His marbles do not represent but present emotion, are the evocation of emotion itself; as in music, form and substance coalesce. If he does not, as did Mallarme, arouse “the silent thunder afloat in the leaves,” he can summon from the vasty deep the spirits of love, hate, pain, despair, sin, beauty, ecstasy; above all, ecstasy. Now the primal gift of ecstasy is bestowed upon few. In our age Keats had it, and Shelley; Byron, despite his passion, missed it, and so did Wordsworth. We find it in Swinburne, he had it from the first; but few French poets have it. Like the “cold devils” of Felicien Rops, coiled in frozen ecstasy, the blasts of hell about them, Charles Baudelaire can boast the dangerous attribute. Poe and Heine knew ecstasy, and Liszt also; Wagner was the master adept of his century. Tschaikowsky followed him close; and in the tiny piano scores of Chopin ecstasy is pinioned in a few bars, the soul often rapt to heaven in a phrase. Richard Strauss has shown a rare variation on the theme of ecstasy; voluptuousness troubled by pain, the soul tormented by stranger nuances.
Rodin is of this tormented choir; he is master of its psychology. It may be the decadence, as any art is in decadence which stakes the parts against the whole. The same was said of Beethoven by the followers of Haydn, and the successors of Richard Strauss will be surely abused quite as violently as the Wagnerites abuse Strauss to-day–employing against him the same critical artillery employed against Wagner. That this ecstasy should be aroused by pictures of love and death, as in the case of Poe and Baudelaire, Wagner and Strauss, must not be adjudged as a black crime. In the Far East they hypnotise neophytes with a bit of broken mirror, for in the kingdom of art, as in the Kingdom of Heaven, there are many mansions. Possibly it was a relic of his early admiration and study of Baudelaire that set Wagner to extorting ecstasy from his orchestra by images of death and love; and no doubt the temperament which seeks such combinations–a temperament commoner in mediaeval days than ours–was inherent in Wagner. He makes his Isolde sing mournfully and madly over a corpse and, throwing herself upon the dead body of Tristan, die shaken by the sweet cruel pains of love. Richard Strauss closely patterns after Wagner in his Salome, there is the head of a dead man, and there is the same dissolving ecstasy. Both men play with similar counters–love and death, and death and love. And so Rodin. In Pisa we may see (attributed by Vasari) Orcagna’s fresco of the Triumph of Death. The sting of the flesh and the way of all flesh are inextricably blended in Rodin’s Gate of Hell. His principal reading for forty years has been Dante and Baudelaire. The Divine Comedy and Les Fleurs du Mal are the key-notes in this white symphony of Auguste Rodin’s. Love and life and bitterness and death rule the themes of his marbles. Like Beethoven and Wagner he breaks the academic laws of his art, but then he is Rodin, and where he achieves magnificently lesser men would miserably perish. His large tumultuous music is for his chisel alone to ring out and sing.
The first and still the best study of Rodin as man and thinker is to be found in a book by Judith Cladel, the daughter of the novelist (author of Mes Paysans). She named it Auguste Rodin, pris sur la vie, and her pages are filled with surprisingly vital sketches of the workaday Rodin. His conversations are recorded; altogether this little picture has much charm and proves what Rodin asserts–that women understand him better than men. There is a fluid, feminine, disturbing side to his art and nature very appealing to emotional women. Mlle. Cladel’s book has also been treasure-trove for the anecdote hunters; all have visited her pages. Camille Mauclair admits his indebtedness; so does Frederick Lawton, whose big volume is the most complete life (probably official) that has thus far appeared, either in French or English. It is written on the side of Rodin, like Mauclair’s more subtle study, and like the masterly criticism of Roger Marx. Born at Paris in 1840–the natal year of his friends Claude Monet and Zola–and in humble circumstances, not enjoying a liberal education, the young Rodin had to fight from the beginning, fight for bread as well as an art schooling. He was not even sure of a vocation. An accident determined it. He became a workman in the atelier of Carrier-Belleuse, the sculptor, but not until he had failed at the Beaux-Arts (which was a stroke of luck for his genius) and after he had enjoyed some tentative instruction under the great animal sculptor, Barye. He was never a steady pupil of Barye, nor did he long remain with him. He went to Belgium and “ghosted” for other sculptors; indeed, it was a privilege, or misfortune, to have been the “ghost”–anonymous assistant–for half a dozen sculptors. He learned his technique by the sweat of his brow before he began to make music upon his own instrument.
How his first work, The Man With the Broken Nose, was refused by the Salon jury is history. He designed for the Sevres porcelain works; he made portrait busts, architectural ornaments for sculptors, caryatides; all styles that are huddled in the yards and studios of sculptors he had essayed and conquered. No man knew his trade better, although we are informed that with the chisel of the _practicien_ Rodin was never proficient–he could not or would not work at the marble _en bloc_. His works to-day are in the leading museums of the world and he is admitted to have “talent” by the academic men. Rivals he has none, nor will he have successors. His production is too personal. Like Richard Wagner, Rodin has proved a Upas tree for many lesser men–he has reflected or else absorbed them. His closest friend, the late Eugene Carriere, warned young sculptors not to study Rodin too curiously. Carriere was wise, but his own art of portraiture was influenced by Rodin; swimming in shadow, his enigmatic heads have a suspicion of the quality of sculpture–Rodin’s–not the mortuary art of so much academic sculpture.
A profound student of light and of movement, Rodin, by deliberate amplification of the surfaces of his statues, avoiding dryness and harshness of outline, secures a zone of radiancy, a luminosity, which creates the illusion of reality. He handles values in clay as a painter does his tones. He gets the design of the outline by movement which continually modifies the anatomy–the secret, he believes, of the Greeks. He studies his profiles successively in full light, obtaining volume–or planes–at once and together; successive views of one movement. The light plays with more freedom upon his amplified surfaces–intensified in the modelling by enlarging the lines. The edges of certain parts are amplified, deformed, falsified, and we see that light-swept effect, that appearance as if of luminous emanations. This deformation, he declares, was practised by the great sculptors to snare the undulating appearance of life. Sculpture, he asserts, is the “art of the hole and the lump, not of clear, well-smoothed, unmodelled figures.” Finish kills vitality. Yet Rodin can chisel a smooth nymph for you if he so wills, but her flesh will ripple and run in the sunlight. His art is one of accents. He works by profile in depth, not by surfaces. He swears by what he calls “cubic truth”; his pattern is a mathematical figure; the pivot of art is balance, _i.e._, the oppositions of volume produced by movement. Unity haunts him. He is a believer in the correspondences of things, of the continuity in nature; a mystic as well as a geometrician. Yet such a realist is he that he quarrels with any artist who does not see “the latent heroic in every natural movement.”
Therefore he does not force the pose of his model, preferring attitudes or gestures voluntarily adopted. His sketch-books, as copious, as vivid as the drawings of Hokusai–he is very studious of Japanese art–are swift memoranda of the human machine as it dispenses its normal muscular motions. Rodin, draughtsman, is as surprising and original as Rodin, sculptor. He will study a human foot for months, not to copy it, but to possess the secret of its rhythms. His drawings are the swift notations of a sculptor whose eye is never satisfied, whose desire to pin on paper the most evanescent movements of the human machine is almost a mania. The French sculptor avoids studied poses. The model tumbles down anywhere, in any contortion or relaxation he or she wishes. Practically instantaneous is the method adopted by Rodin to preserve the fleeting attitudes, the first shiver of surfaces. He draws rapidly with his eye on the model. It is a mere scrawl, a few enveloping lines, a silhouette. But vitality is in it; and for his purposes a mere memorandum of a motion. A sculptor has made these extraordinary drawings not a painter. It will be well to observe the distinction. He is the most rhythmic sculptor of them all. And rhythm is the codification of beauty. Because he has observed with a vision quite virginal he insists that he has affiliations with the Greeks. But if his vision is Greek his models are Parisian, while his forms are more Gothic than the pseudo-Greek of the academy. As W.C. Brownell wrote years ago: “Rodin reveals rather than constructs beauty… no sculptor has carried expression further; and expression means individual character completely exhibited rather than conventionally suggested.” Mr. Brownell was also the first critic to point out that Rodin’s art was more nearly related to Donatello than to Michael Angelo. He is in the legitimate line of French sculpture, the line of Goujon, Puget, Rude, Barye. Dalou did not hesitate to assert that the Dante portal is “one of the most, if not the most, original and astonishing pieces of sculpture of the nineteenth century.”
This Dante Gate, begun more than twenty years ago, not finished yet, and probably never to be, is an astounding fugue, with death, the devil, hell, and the passions as a horribly beautiful four-voiced theme. I saw the composition a few years ago at the Rue de l’Universite atelier. It is as terrifying a conception as the Last Judgment; nor does it miss the sonorous and sorrowful grandeur of the Medici Tombs. Yet how different, how feverish, how tragic! Like all great men working in the grip of a unifying idea, Rodin modified the old technique of sculpture so that it would serve him as plastically as does sound a musical composer. A deep lover of music, his inner ear may dictate the vibrating rhythms of his forms–his marbles are ever musical; not “frozen music” as Goethe said of Gothic architecture, but silent swooning music. This gate is a Frieze of Paris, as deeply significant of modern aspiration and sorrow as the Parthenon Frieze is the symbol of the great clear beauty of Hellas. Dante inspired this monstrous and ennobled masterpiece, but Baudelaire filled many of its chinks and crannies with writhing ignoble shapes; shapes of dusky fire that, as they tremulously stand above the gulf of fears, wave ineffectual desperate hands. Heine in his Deutschland asks:
Kennst du die Hoelle des Dante nicht, Die schreckliche Terzetten?
Wen da der Dichter hineingesperrt Den kann kein Gott mehr retten.
And from the “singing flames” of Rodin there is no rescue.
But he is not all tragedy and hell fire. Of singular delicacy, of exquisite proportions are his marbles of youth, of springtide, and the desire of life. In 1900, at his special exhibition, Paris, Europe, and America awoke to these haunting visions. Not since Keats or Swinburne has love been sung so sweetly, so romantically, so fiercely. Though he disclaims understanding the Celtic spirit, one could say that there is Celtic magic, Celtic mystery in his work. He pierces to the core the frenzy and joy of love and translates them in beautiful symbols. Nature is for him the sole theme; his works are but variations on her promptings. He knows the emerald route and all the semitones of sensuousness. Fantasy, passion, even paroxysmal madness there are; yet what elemental power in his Adam as the gigantic first _homo_ painfully heaves himself up from the earth to that posture which differentiates him from the beasts. Here, indeed, the two natures are at strife. And Mother Eve, her expression suggesting the sorrows and shames that are to be the lot of her seed; her very loins seem crushed by the ages that are hidden within them. You may walk freely about the burghers of Calais, as did Rodin when he modelled them; that is one secret of the group’s vital quality. About all his statues you may walk–he is not a sculptor of one attitude, but a hewer of men and women. Consider the Balzac. It is not Balzac the writer of novels, but Balzac the prophet, the seer, the great natural force–like Rodin himself. That is why these kindred spirits converse across the years, as do the Alpine peaks in that striking parable of Turgenieff’s. No doubt in bronze the Balzac will arouse less wrath from the unimaginative; in plaster it produces the effect of some surging monolith of snow.
As a portraitist of his contemporaries Rodin is the unique master of character. His women are gracious, delicious masks; his men cover many octaves in virility and variety. That he is extremely short-sighted has not been dealt with in proportion to the significance of this fact. It accounts for his love of exaggerated surfaces, his formless extravagance, his indefiniteness in structural design; possibly, too, for his inability, or let us say lack of sympathy, for the monumental. He is essentially a sculptor of the intimate emotions; he delineates passion as a psychologist; and while we think of him as a cyclops wielding a huge hammer destructively, he is often ardent in his search of subtle nuance. But there is breadth even when he models an eyelid. Size is only relative. We are confronted by the paradox of an artist as torrential, as apocalyptic as Rubens and Wagner, carving with a style wholly charming a segment of a baby’s back so that you exclaim, “Donatello come to life!” His slow, defective vision, then, may have been his salvation; he seems to rely as much on his delicate tactile sense as on his eyes. His fingers are as sensitive as a violinist’s. At times he seems to model tone and colour. A marvellous poet, a precise sober workman of art, with a peasant strain in him like Millet, and, like Millet, very near to the soil; a natural man, yet crossed by nature with a perverse strain; the possessor of a sensibility exalted, and dolorous; morbid, sick-nerved, and as introspective as Heine; a visionary and a lover of life, very close to the periphery of things; an interpreter of Baudelaire; Dante’s alter ego in his vast grasp of the wheel of eternity, in his passionate fling at nature; withal a sculptor, always profound and tortured, translating rhythm and motion into the terms of sculpture. Rodin is a statuary who, while having affinities with both the classic and romantic schools, is the most startling artistic apparition of his century. And to the century he has summed up so plastically and emotionally he has also propounded questions that only the unborn years may answer. He has a hundred faults to which he opposes one imperious excellence–a genius, sombre, magical, and overwhelming.
V. EUGENE CARRIERE
Death has consecrated the genius of three great painters happily neglected and persecuted during their lifetime–Manet, Monticelli, and Carriere. Though furiously opposed, Manet was admitted to the Luxembourg by the conditions of the Caillebotte legacy. There that ironic masterpiece, Olympe–otherwise known as the Cat and Cocotte–has hung for the edification of intelligent amateurs, though it was only a bequest of triumphant hatred in official eyes. And now the lady with her cat and negress is in the Louvre, in which sacrosanct region she, with her meagre, subtle figure, competes among the masterpieces. Yet there were few dissenting voices. Despite its temperamental oscillations France is at bottom sound in the matter of art. Genius may starve, but genius once recognised, the apotheosis is logically bound to follow. No fear of halls of fame with a French Poe absent.
Eugene Carriere was more fortunate than his two famous predecessors. He toiled and suffered hardship, but before his death he was officially acknowledged though never altogether approved by the Salon in which he exhibited; approved or understood. He fought under no banner. He was not an impressionist. He was not a realist. Certainly he could be claimed by neither the classics nor romantics. A “solitary” they agreed to call him; but his is not the hermetic art of such a solitary as Gustave Moreau. Carriere, on the contrary, was a man of marked social impulses, and when in 1889 he received the Legion of Honour, he was enabled to mingle with his equals–he had been almost unknown until then. He was the most progressive spirit among his brethren. Nowadays he is classed as an Intimist, in which category and with such men as Simon Bussy, Menard, Henri le Sidaner, Emile Wery, Charles Cottet, Lucien Simon, Edouard Vuillard, the Griveaus, Lomont, Lobre, and others, he is still their master, still the possessor of a highly individualised style, and in portraiture the successor to such diverse painters as Prudhon, Ricard, and Whistler.
Gabriel Seailles has written a study, Eugene Carriere, l’Homme et l’Artiste, and Charles Morice has published another, Eugene Carriere. The latter deals with the personality and ideas of one of the most original thinkers among modern French painters. We have spoken of the acerbity of Degas, of his wit, so often borrowed by Whistler and Manet; we have read Eugene Fromentin’s delightful, stimulating studies of the old masters, but we doubt if Fromentin was as profound a thinker as Carriere. Degas is not, though he deals in a more acid and dangerous form of aphorism. It is one of the charms of the eulogy of M. Morice to find embalmed therein so many phrases and speeches of the dead painter. He was both poet and philosopher, let us call him a seer, for his work fully bears out this appellation. A grand visionary, he well deserves Jean Dolent’s description of his pictures as “realities having the magic of a dream.”
Carriere’s career was in no wise extraordinary. He fled to no exotic climes as did Paul Gauguin. His only tragedy was the manner of his death. For three years previous he suffered the agonies of a cancer. His bravery was admirable. No one heard him complain. He worked to the last, worked as he had worked his life long, untiringly. Morice gives a “succinct biography” at the close of his study. From it we learn that Eugene Carriere was born January 29, 1849, at Gournay (Seine-Inferieure); that he made his first steps in art at the Strasbourg Academy; in 1869 he entered the Beaux-Arts, in Cabanel’s class. Penniless, he earned a precarious existence in designing industrial objects. In 1870 he was made prisoner by the Prussians, with the garrison of Neuf-Brisach, and taken to Dresden, where he was confined in prison. After peace had been declared he resumed his studies at the Beaux-Arts. In 1877 he married–an important event in his art; thenceforward Madame Carriere and the children born to them were his continual models, both by preference and also by force of circumstances–he was too poor in the beginning to hire professional models. He spent six months in London, which may or may not account for his brumous colour; and in 1879, when he was thirty years old, he exposed in the Salon of that year his Young Mother, the first of a long series of Maternities. He was violently attacked by the critics, and as violently defended. During the same year he attempted to win the “prix de Rome” and gained honours for his sketch. Luckily he did not attain this prize; and, still more luck, he left the school.
In 1884 he received an honourable mention for a child’s portrait; in 1885 a medal for his Sick Child, bought by the State; in 1886 Le Premier voile was bought by the State and he was proposed for a medal of honour and–singular dream of Frenchmen–he was decorated in 1889. He died March 27, 1906. Not a long, but a full life, a happy one, and at the last, glory–“_le soleil des morts_,” as Balzac said–and a competence for his dear ones. And it is to the honour of such writers as Roger Marx, Anatole France, Hamel, Morice, Mauclair, Verhaeren, Geffroy, that they recognised the genius of Carriere from the beginning. In 1904 Carriere was made honorary president of the Autumn Salon and was the chief guest of these young painters, who really adored Paul Cezanne, and not the painter of an illusive psychology. I wrote at that time: “Carriere, whose delicately clouded portraits, so intimate in their revelation of the souls of his sitters, was not seen at his best. He offered a large decorative panel for the Mairie of the Thirteenth Arrondissement, entitled Les Fiances, a sad-looking betrothal party … the landscape timid, the decorative scheme not very effective… His tender notations of maternity, and his heads, painted with the smoky enchantments of his pearly gray and soft russet, are more credible than this _panneau_.” Was Carriere a decorative painter by nature–setting aside training? We doubt it, though Morice does not hesitate to name him after Puvis de Chavannes in this field. The trouble is that he did not make many excursions into the larger forms. He painted a huge canvas, Les Theatres Populaires, in which the interest is more intimate than epical. He also did some decorations for the Hotel de Ville, The Four Ages for a Mairie, and the Christ at the Luxembourg and a view of Paris. Nevertheless, it is his portraits that will live.
Carriere was, first and last, a symbolist. There he is related to the Dutch Seer, Rembrandt; both men strove to seek for the eternal correspondence of things material and spiritual; both sought to bring into harmony the dissonance of flesh and the spirit. Both succeeded, each in his own way–though we need not couple their efforts on the technical side. Rembrandt was a prophet. There is more of the reflective poet in Carriere. He is a mystic. His mothers, his children, are dreams made real–the magic of which Dolent speaks is always there. To disengage the personality of his sitter was his first idea. Slowly he built up those volumes of colour, light, and shadow, the solidity of which caused Rodin to exclaim: “Carriere is also a sculptor!” Slowly and from the most unwilling sitter he extorted the secret of a soul. We speak of John Sargent as the master psychologist among portraitists, a superiority he himself has never assumed; but that magnificent virtuoso, an aristocratic Frans Hals, never gives us the indefinite sense of things mystic beneath the epidermis of poor, struggling humanity as does Eugene Carriere. Sargent is too magisterial a painter to dwell upon the infinite little soul-stigmata of men and women. Who can tell the renunciations made by the Frenchman in his endeavour to wrest the enigma of personality from its abysmal depths?
As Canaille Mauclair says: “Carriere was first influenced by the Spaniards, then by Ver Meer and Chardin … formerly he coloured his canvas with exquisite delicacy and with a distinction of harmonies that came very near to Whistler’s. Now he confines himself to bistre, black and white, to evoke those dream pictures, true images of souls, which make him inimitable in our epoch and go back to Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro.” Colour went by the board at the last, and the painter was dominated by expression alone. His gamut of tones became contracted. “Physical magnetism” is exactly the phrase that illuminates his later methods. Often cavernous in tone, sooty in his blacks, he nevertheless contrives a fluid atmosphere, the shadows floating, the figure floating, that arrests instant attention. He became almost sculptural, handled his planes with imposing breadth, his sense of values was strong, his gradations and degradation of tones masterly; and he escaped the influences of the new men in their researches after luminosity at all hazards. He considered impressionism a transition; after purifying muddy palettes of the academics, the division-of-tones painters must necessarily return to lofty composition, to a poetic simplicity with nature, to a more rarefied psychology.
Carriere, notwithstanding his nocturnal reveries, his sombre colouring, was not a pessimist. Indeed, the reverse. His philosophy of life was exalted–an exalted socialism. He was, to employ Nietzsche’s pithy phrase, a “Yes-Sayer”; he said “Yes” to the universe. A man of vigorous affirmations, he worshipped nature, not for its pictorial aspects, but for the god which is the leaf and rock and animal, for the god that beats in our pulses and shines in the clear sunlight. Nor was it vague, windy pantheism, this; he was a believer–a glance at his Christ reveals his reverence for the Man of Sorrows–and his religious love and pity for mankind was only excelled by his hatred of wrong and oppression. He detested cruelty. His canvases of childhood, in which he exposes the most evanescent gesture, exposes the unconscious helplessness of babyhood, are so many tracts–if you choose to see them after that fashion–in behalf of mercy to all tender and living things. He is not, however, a sentimentalist. His family groups prove the absence of theatrical pity. Because of his subtle technical method, his manner of building up his heads in a misty medium and then abstracting their physical non-essentials, his portraits have a metaphysical meaning–they are a _Becoming_, not a _Being_, tangible though they be. Their fluid rhythms lend to them almost the quality of a perpetual rejuvenescence. This may be an illusion, but it tells us of the primary intensity of the painter’s vision. Withal, there is no scene of the merely spectral, no optical trickery. The waves of light are magnetic. The picture floats in space, seemingly compelled by its frame into limits. Gustave Geffroy once wrote that, in common with the great masters, Carriere, on his canvas, gives a sense of volume and weight. Whatever he sacrificed, it was not actuality. His draughtsmanship never falters, his touch is never infirm.
I have seen his portraits of Verlaine, Daudet, Edmond de Goncourt, Geffroy, of the artist himself and many others. The Verlaine is a veritable evocation. It was painted at one _seance_ of several hours, and the poet, it is said, did not sit still or keep silence for a moment. He was hardly conscious that he was being painted. What a head! Not that of the old faun and absinthe-sipping vagabond of the Latin quarter, but the soul that lurked somewhere in Verlaine; the dreamer, not the mystifier, the man crucified to the cross of aspiration by his unhappy temperament. Musician and child, here is the head of one of those pious, irresponsible mendicants who walked dusty roads in the Middle Ages. It needed an unusual painter to interpret an unusual poet.
The Daudet face is not alone full of surface character, but explains the racial affinities of the romancer. Here he is David, not Daudet. The head of De Goncourt gives in a few touches–Carriere is ever master of the essential–the irritable pontiff of literary impressionism. Carriere was fond of repeating: “For the artist the forms evoke ideas, sensations, and sentiments; for the poet, sensations, ideas, sentiments evoke forms.” Never expansively lyrical as was Monticelli, Carriere declared that a picture is the logical development of light. And on the external side his art is a continual variation with light as a theme. Morice contends that he was a colourist; that the blond of Rubens and the russet of Carriere are not monochromes; that polychromy is not the true way of seeing nature coloured. Certainly Carriere does not sacrifice style, expression, composition for splashing hues. Yet his illuminating strokes appear to proceed from within, not from without. He interrogates nature, but her answer is a sober, not a brilliant one. Let us rather say that his colouring is adequate–he always asserted that a sense of proportion was success in art. His tone is peculiarly personal; he paints expressions, the fleeting shades that cross the face of a man, a woman, a child. He patiently awaits the master trait of a soul and never misses it, though never displaying it with the happy cruelty of Sargent and always judging mercifully. Notwithstanding his humble attitude in the presence of nature, he is the most self-revealing of painters. Few before him ever interpreted maternity as he has done.
Carriere is not a virtuoso. He is an initiator–a man of rare imagination. Above all, he escapes the rhetoric of the schools. His apprehension of character is that of sympathetic genius. He divines the emotions, especially in those souls made melancholy by sorrow; uneasy, complex, feverish souls; them that hide their griefs, and souls saturated with the ennuis of existence–to all he is interpreter and consoler. He has pictured the _Weltschmerz_ of his age; and without morbid self-enjoyment. A noble soul, an elevating example to those artists who believe that art and life may be dissociated. Carriere has left no school, though his spiritual influence has been great. A self-contained artist, going his own way, meditating deeply on art, on life, his canvases stand for his singleness and purity of purpose. On the purely pictorial side he is, to quote M. Mauclair, “an absolutely surprising painter of hands and glances.”
In the sad and anxious rectitude of his attire the artistic interest in modern man is concentrated upon his head and hands; and upon these salient points Carriere focussed his art. Peaceful or disquieted, his men and women belong to our century. Spiritually Eugene Carriere is the lineal descendant of the Rembrandt school–but one who has read Dostoievsky.
Let us suppose that gay old misogynist Arthur Schopenhauer persuaded to cross the Styx and revisiting the earth. Apart from his disgust if forced to listen to the music of his self-elected disciple Richard Wagner, what painted work would be likely to attract him? Remember he it was who named Woman the knock-kneed sex–since the new woman is here it matters little if her figure conforms to old-fashioned, stupid, masculine standards of beauty. But wouldn’t the nudes of Degas confirm the Frankfort philosopher in his theories regarding the “long-haired, short-brained, unaesthetic sex,” and also confirm his hatred for the exaggerations of poet and painter when describing or depicting her? We fear that Schopenhauer would smile his malicious smile and exclaim: “At last the humble truth!” It is the presentation of the humble truth that early snared the affections of Degas, who has with a passionate calm pursued the evanescent appearances of things his entire life. No doubt death will find him pencil in hand. You think of Hokusai, the old man mad with paint, when the name of Degas is mentioned. He was born in Paris July 19, 1834–his full name is Hilaire Germain Edgard (or Edgar)–and there is one phrase that will best describe his career: He painted. Like Flaubert, he never married, but lived in companionship with his art. Such a mania could have been described by Balzac. Yet no saner art ever issued from a Parisian atelier; sane, clear, and beautiful.
Degas is a painter’s painter. For him the subject is a peg upon which to hang superb workmanship. In amazement the public asked: How could a man in the possession of his powers shut himself up in a studio to paint ballet girls, washerwomen, jockeys, drabs of Montmartre, shopgirls, and horses? Even Zola, who should have known better, would not admit that Degas was an artist fit to be compared with such men as Flaubert and Goncourt; but Zola was never the realist that is Degas. Now it is difficult to keep asunder the names of Goncourt and Degas. To us they are too often unwisely bracketed. The style of the painter has been judged as analogous to the novelist’s; yet, apart from a preference for the same subjects for the “modernity” of Paris, there is not much in Degas that recalls Goncourt’s staccato, febrile, sparkling, “decomposed”, impressionistic prose. Both men are brilliant, though not in the same way. Pyrotechnics are abhorrent to Degas. He has the serenity, sobriety, and impersonality of the great classic painters. He is himself a classic.
His legend is slender. Possessing a private income, he never was preoccupied with the anxieties of selling his work. He first entered the atelier of Lamotte, but his stay was brief. In the studio of Ingres he was, so George Moore declares, the student who carried out the lifeless body of the painter when Ingres fell in his fatal fit. There is something peculiarly interesting about this anecdote for the tradition of Ingres has been carried on by Degas. The greatest master of pure line, in his portraits and nudes–we have forgotten his chilly _pastiches_ of Raphael–of the past century, Ingres has been and still is for Degas a god on the peaks of Parnassus. Degas is an Ingres who has studied the Japanese. Only such men as Pollajuolo and Botticelli rank with Degas in the mastery of rhythmic line. He is not academic, yet he stems from purest academic traditions. He is not of the impressionists, at least not in his technical processes, but he associated with them, exhibited with them (though rarely), and is as a rule confused with them. He never exhibited in the Salons, he has no disciples, yet it is doubtful if any painter’s fashion of seeing things has had such an influence on the generation following him. The name of Degas, the pastels of Degas, the miraculous draughtsmanship of Degas created an imponderable fluid which still permeates Paris. Naturally, after the egg trick was discovered we encounter scores of young Columbuses, who paint ballet girls’ legs and the heads of orchestral musicians and scenes from the racing paddock.
Degas had three painters who, if any, might truthfully call themselves his pupils. These are Mary Cassatt, Alexis Rouart, and Forain. The first has achieved solid fame. The last is a remarkable illustrator, who “vulgarised” the austere methods of his master for popular Parisian consumption. That Renoir, Raffaelli, and Toulouse-Lautrec owe much to Degas is the secret of Polichinello. This patient student of the Tuscan Primitives, of Holbein, Chardin, Delacroix, Ingres, and