Produced by Suzanne Shell, Renald Levesque and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: (_Photo: E. Druet_) CEZANNE]
Most of these Essays appeared in THE NEW REPUBLIC and THE ATHENAEUM: some, however, are reprinted from THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE, THE NEW STATESMAN, and ART AND DECORATION. I take this opportunity of thanking the editors of all.
I. Since Cezanne
II. The Artistic Problem
III. The Douanier Rousseau
VI. Tradition and Movements
VII. Matisse and Picasso
VIII. The Place of Art in Art Criticism IX. Bonnard
X. Duncan Grant
XI. Negro Sculpture
XII. Order and Authority (1 and 2) XIII. Marquet
1. First thoughts
2. Second thoughts
3. Last thoughts
XVI. Othon Friesz
XVIII. Art and Politics
XIX. The Authority of M. Derain
XX. “Plus de Jazz”
[Illustration: (_Photo: E. Druet_) SEURAT]
With anyone who concludes that this preliminary essay is merely to justify the rather appetizing title of my book I shall be at no pains to quarrel. If privately I think it does more, publicly I shall not avow it. Historically and critically, I admit, the thing is as slight as a sketch contained in five-and-thirty pages must be, and certainly it adds nothing to what I have said, in the essays to which it stands preface, on aesthetic theory. The function it is meant to perform–no very considerable one perhaps–is to justify not so much the title as the shape of my book, giving, in the process, a rough sketch of the period with certain aspects of which I am to deal. That the shape needs justification is attributable to the fact that though all, or nearly all, the component articles were written with a view to making one volume, I was conscious, while I wrote them, of dealing with two subjects. Sometimes I was discussing current ideas, and questions arising out of a theory of art; at others I was trying to give some account of the leading painters of the contemporary movement. Sometimes I was writing of Theory, sometimes of Practice. By means of this preface I hope to show why, at the moment, these two, far from being distinct, are inseparable.
To understand thoroughly the contemporary movement–that movement in every turn and twist of which the influence of Cezanne is traceable–the movement which may be said to have come into existence contemporaneously almost with the century, and still holds the field–it is necessary to know something of the aesthetic theories which agitated it. One of the many unpremeditated effects of Cezanne’s life and work was to set artists thinking, and even arguing. His practice challenged so sharply all current notions of what painting should be that a new generation, taking him for master, found itself often, much to its dismay, obliged to ask and answer such questions as “What am I doing?” “Why am I doing it?” Now such questions lead inevitably to an immense query–“What is Art?” The painters began talking, and from words sprang deeds. Thus it comes about that in the sixteen or seventeen years which have elapsed since the influence of Cezanne became paramount theory has played a part which no critic or historian can overlook. It is because to-day that part appears to be dwindling, because the influence of theory is growing less, that the moment is perhaps not inopportune for a little book such as this is meant to be. It comes, if I am right, just when the movement is passing out of its first into the second phase.
During this first phase theory has been much to the fore. But it has been theory, you must remember, working on a generation of direct and intensely personal artists. In so curious an alliance you will expect to find as much stress as harmony; also, you must remember, its headquarters were at Paris where flourishes the strongest and most vital tradition of painting extant. In this great tradition some of the more personal artists, struggling against the intolerable exactions of doctrine, have found powerful support; indeed, only with its aid have they succeeded at last in securing their positions as masters who, though not disdaining to pay homage for what they hold from the new theories, are as independent as feudal princes. But the more I consider the period the more this strange and restless alliance of doctrine with temperament appears to be of its essence; wherefore, I shall not hesitate to make of it a light wherewith to take a hasty look about me. Here are two labels ready to hand–“temperamental” and “doctrinaire.” I am under no illusion as to the inadequacy and fallibility of both; neither shall I imagine that, once applied, they are bound to stick. On the contrary, you will see, in a later chapter, how, having dubbed Matisse “temperamental” and Picasso “theorist,” I come, on examination, to find in the art of Matisse so much science and in that of Picasso such extraordinary sensibility that in the end I am much inclined to pull off the labels and change them about. But though, for purposes of criticism coarse and sometimes treacherous, this pair of opposites–which are really quite compatible–may prove two useful hacks. As such I accept them; and by them borne along I now propose to make a short tour of inspection, one object of which will be to indicate broadly the lie of the land, another to call attention to a number of interesting artists whose names happen not to have come my way in any other part of this book.
I said, and I suppose no one will deny it, that Paris was the centre of the movement: from Paris, therefore, I set out. There the movement originated, there it thrives and develops, and there it can best be seen and understood. Ever since the end of the seventeenth century France has taken the lead in the visual arts, and ever since the early part of the nineteenth Paris has been the artistic capital of Europe. Thither painters of all foreign nations have looked; there many have worked, and many more have made a point of showing their works. Anyone, therefore, who makes a habit of visiting Paris, seeing the big exhibitions, and frequenting dealers and studios, can get a pretty complete idea of what is going on in Europe. There he will find Picasso–the animator [A] of the movement–and some of the best of his compatriots, Juan Gris and Marie Blanchard for instance, to say nothing of such fashionable figures as MM. Zuloaga _et_ Sert. There he will find better Dutchmen than Van Dongen, and an active colony of Scandinavians the most interesting of whom is probably Per Krohg. The career of Krohg, by the way, is worth considering for a moment and watching for the future. Finely gifted in many ways, he started work under three crippling disabilities–a literary imagination, natural facility, and inherited science. The results were at first precisely what might have been expected. Now, however, he is getting the upper hand of his unlucky equipment; and his genuine talent and personal taste, beginning to assert themselves, have made it impossible for criticism any longer to treat him merely as an amiable member of a respectable group. What is true of Spain and Scandinavia is even truer of Poland and what remains of Russia. Goncharova and Larionoff–the former a typically temperamental artist, the latter an extravagantly doctrinaire one–Soudeikine, Grigorieff, Zadkine live permanently in Paris; while Kisling, whom I take to be the best of the Poles, has become so completely identified with the country in which he lives, and for which he fought, that he is often taken by English critics for a Frenchman. Survage (with his eccentric but sure sense of colour), Soutine (with his delicious paint), and Marcoussis (a cubist of great merit) each, in his own way, working in Paris, adds to the artistic reputation of his native country. In the rue La Boetie you can see the work of painters and sculptors from every country in Europe almost, and from a good many in Africa. The Italian Futurists have often made exhibitions there. While the work of Severini–their most creditable representative–is always to be found _chez_ Leonce Rosenberg, hard by in the rue de la Baume.
[Footnote A: For this word, which I think very happily suggests Picasso’s role in contemporary painting, I am indebted to my friend M. Andre Salmon.]
However, most of the Futurists have retired to their own country, where we will leave them. On the other hand, the most gifted Italian painter who has appeared this century, Modigliani, was bred on the Boulevard Montparnasse. In the movement he occupies an intermediate position, being neither of the pioneers nor yet of the post-war generation. He was not much heard of before the war, [B] and he died less than a year after peace was signed. In my mind, therefore, his name is associated with the war–then, at any rate, was the hour of his glory; he dominated the cosmopolitan groups of his quarter at a time when most of the French painters, masters and disciples, were in the trenches. Modigliani owed something to Cezanne and a great deal to Picasso: he was no doctrinaire: towards the end he became the slave of a formula of his own devising–but that is another matter. Modigliani had an intense but narrow sensibility, his music is all on one string: he had a characteristically Italian gift for drawing beautifully with ease: and I think he had not much else. I feel sure that those who would place him amongst the masters of the movement–Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Bonnard, and Friesz–mistake; for, with all his charm and originality, he was too thoughtless and superficial to achieve greatly. He invented something which he went on repeating; and he could always fascinate simply by his way of handling a brush or a pencil. His pictures, delightful and surprising at first sight, are apt to grow stale and, in the end, some of them, unbearably thin. A minor artist, surely.
[Footnote B: He was at work, however, by 1906–perhaps earlier.]
Though Paris is unquestionably the centre of the movement, no one who sees only what comes thither and to London–and that is all I see–can have much idea of what is going on in Germany and America. Germany has not yet recommenced sending her art in quantities that make judgement possible, while it is pretty clear that the American art which reaches Europe is by no means the best that America can do. From both come magazines with photographs which excite our curiosity, but on such evidence it would be mere impertinence to form an opinion. Of contemporary art in Germany and America I shall say nothing. And what shall I say of the home-grown article? Having taken Paris for my point of view, I am excused from saying much. Not much of English art is seen from Paris. We have but one living painter whose work is at all well known to the serious amateurs of that city, and he is Sickert. [C] The name, however, of Augustus John is often pronounced, ill–for they _will_ call him Augustin–and that of Steer is occasionally murmured. Through the _salon d’automne_ Roger Fry is becoming known; and there is a good deal of curiosity about the work of Duncan Grant, and some about that of Mark Gertler and Vanessa Bell. Now, of these, Sickert and Steer are essentially, and in no bad sense, provincial masters. They are belated impressionists of considerable merit working in a thoroughly fresh and personal way on the problems of a bygone age. In the remoter parts of Europe as late as the beginning of the seventeenth century were to be found genuine and interesting artists working in the Gothic tradition: the existence of Sickert and Steer made us realize how far from the centre is London still. On the Continent such conservatism would almost certainly be the outcome of stupidity or prejudice; but both Sickert and Steer have still something of their own to say about the world seen through an impressionist temperament. The prodigious reputation enjoyed by Augustus John is another sign of our isolation. His splendid talent when, as a young man, he took it near enough the central warmth to make it expand (besides the influence of Puvis, remember, it underwent that of Picasso) began to bear flowers of delicious promise. Had he kept it there John might never have tasted the sweets of insular renown: he would have had his place in the history of painting, however. The French know enough of Vorticism to know that it is a provincial and utterly insignificant contrivance which has borrowed what it could from Cubism and Futurism and added nothing to either. They like to fancy that the English tradition is that of Gainsborough and Constable, quite failing to realize what havoc has been made of this admirable plastic tradition by that puerile gospel of literary pretentiousness called Pre-Raphaelism. Towards these mournful quags and quicksands, with their dead-sea flora of anecdote and allegory, the best part of the little talent we produce seems irresistibly to be drawn: by these at last it is sucked down. That, at any rate, is the way that most of those English artists who ten or a dozen years ago gave such good promise have gone. Let us hope better of the new generation–recent exhibitions afford some excuse–a generation which, if reactionarily inclined, can always take Steer for a model, or, if disposed to keep abreast of the times and share in the heritage of Cezanne as well as that of Constable, can draw courage from the fact that there is, after all, one English painter–Duncan Grant–who takes honourable rank beside the best of his contemporaries.
[Footnote C: The Irish painter O’Conor, and the Canadian Morrice, are both known and respected in Paris; but because they have lived their lives there and known none but French influences they are rarely thought of as British. In a less degree the same might be said of that admirable painter George Barne.]
It is fifteen years since Cezanne died, and only now is it becoming possible to criticize him. That shows how overwhelming his influence was. The fact that at last his admirers and disciples, no longer under any spell or distorting sense of loyalty, recognize that there are in painting plenty of things worth doing which he never did is all to the good. It is now possible to criticize him seriously; and when all his insufficiencies have been fairly shown he remains one of the very greatest painters that ever lived. The serious criticism of Cezanne is a landmark in the history of the movement, and still something of a novelty; for, naturally, I reckon the vulgar vituperation with which his work was greeted, and the faint praise with which it was subsequently damned, as no criticism at all. The hacks and pedagogues and middle-class metaphysicians who abused him, and only when it dawned on them that they were making themselves silly, in the eyes of their own flock even, took to patronizing, are forgot. They babble in the Burlington Fine Arts Club–where nobody marks them–and have their reward in professorships and the direction of public galleries. The criticism that matters, of which we are beginning to hear something, comes mostly from painters, his ardent admirers, who realize that Cezanne attempted things which he failed to achieve and deliberately shunned others worth achieving. Also, they realize that there is always a danger of one good custom corrupting the world.
Cezanne is the full-stop between impressionism and the contemporary movement. Of course there is really no such thing as a full-stop in art any more than there is in nature. Movement grows out of movement, and every artist is attached to the past by a thousand binders springing from a thousand places in the great stem of tradition. But it is true that there is hardly one modern artist of importance to whom Cezanne is not father or grandfather, and that no other influence is comparable with his. To be sure there is Seurat, of whom we shall hear more in the next ten years. Although he died as long ago as 1891 his importance has not yet been fully realized, his discoveries have not been fully exploited, not yet has his extraordinary genius received adequate recognition. Seurat may be the Giorgione of the movement. Working in isolation and dying young, he is known to us only by a few pictures which reveal unmistakeable and mysterious genius; but I should not be surprised if from the next generation he were to receive honours equal almost to those paid Cezanne.
The brave _douanier_ was hardly master enough to have great and enduring influence; nevertheless, the sincerity of his vision and directness of his method reinforced and even added to one part of the lesson taught by Cezanne: also, it was he who–by his pictures, not by doctrine of course–sent the pick of the young generation to look at the primitives. Such as it was, his influence was a genuinely plastic one, which is more, I think, than can be said for that of Gauguin or of Van Gogh. The former seemed wildly exciting for a moment, partly because he flattened out his forms, designed in two dimensions, and painted without chiaroscuro in pure colours, but even more because he had very much the air of a rebel. “Il nous faut les barbares,” said Andre Gide; “il nous faut les barbares,” said we all. Well, here was someone who had gone to live with them, and sent home thrilling, and often very beautiful, pictures which could, if one chose, be taken as challenges to European civilization. To a considerable extent the influence of Gauguin was literary, and therefore in the long run negligible. It is a mistake on that account to suppose–as many seem inclined to do–that Gauguin was not a fine painter.
Van Gogh was a fine painter, too; but his influence, like that of Gauguin, has proved nugatory–a fact which detracts nothing from the merit of his work. He was fitted by his admirers into current social and political tendencies, and coupled with Charles-Louis Philippe as an apostle of sentimental anarchy. Sentimental portraits of washerwomen and artisans were compared with Marie Donadieu and Bubu de Montparnasse; and by indiscreet enthusiasm the artist was degraded to the level of a preacher. Nor was this degradation inexcusable: Van Gogh was a preacher, and too often his delicious and sensitive works of art are smeared over, to their detriment, with tendencious propaganda. At his best, however, he is a very great impressionist–a neo-impressionist, or expressionist if you like–but I should say an impressionist much influenced and much to the good, as was Gauguin, by acquaintance with Cezanne in his last and most instructive phase. Indeed, it is clear that Gauguin and Van Gogh would not have come near achieving what they did achieve–achieved, mind you, as genuine painters–had they not been amongst the first to realize and make use of that bewildering revelation which is the art of Cezanne.
Of that art I am not here to speak; I am concerned only with its influence. Taking the thing at its roughest and simplest, one may say that the influence of Cezanne during the last seventeen years has manifested itself most obviously in two characteristics–Directness and what is called Distortion. Cezanne was direct because he set himself a task which admitted of no adscititious flourishes–the creation of form which should be entirely self-supporting and intrinsically significant, _la possession de la forme_ as his descendants call it now. To this great end all means were good: all that was not a means to this end was superfluous. To achieve it he was prepared to play the oddest tricks with natural forms–to distort. All great artists have distorted; Cezanne was peculiar only in doing so more consciously and thoroughly than most. What is important in his art is, of course, the beauty of his conceptions and his power in pursuit: indifference to verisimilitude is but the outward and visible sign of this inward and spiritual grace. For some, however, though not for most of his followers his distortion had an importance of its own.
To the young painters of 1904, or thereabouts, Cezanne came as the liberator: he it was who had freed painting from a mass of conventions which, useful once, had grown old and stiff and were now no more than so many impediments to expression. To most of them his chief importance–as an influence, of course–was that he had removed all unnecessary barriers between what they felt and its realization in form. It was his directness that was thrilling. But to an important minority the distortions and simplifications–the reduction of natural forms to spheres, cylinders, cones, etc.–which Cezanne had used as means were held to be in themselves of consequence because capable of fruitful development. From them it was found possible to deduce a theory of art–a complete aesthetic even. Put on a fresh track by Cezanne’s practice, a group of gifted and thoughtful painters began to speculate on the nature of form and its appeal to the aesthetic sense, and not to speculate only, but to materialize their speculations. The greatest of them, Picasso, invented Cubism. If I call these artists who forged themselves a theory of form and used it as a means of expression Doctrinaires it is because to me that name bears no disparaging implication and seems to indicate well enough what I take to be their one common characteristic: if I call those who, without giving outward sign (they may well have had their private speculations and systems) of an abstract theory, appeared to use distortion when, where, and as their immediate sensibility dictated, Fauves, that is because the word has passed into three languages, is admirably colourless–for all its signifying a colour–and implies the existence of a group without specifying a peculiarity. Into Doctrinaires–Theorists if you like the word better–and Fauves the first generation of Cezanne’s descendants could, I feel sure, be divided; whether such a division would serve any useful purpose is another matter. What I am sure of is that to have two such labels, to be applied when occasion requires and cancelled without much compunction, will excellently serve mine, which may, or may not, be useful.
I would not insist too strongly on the division; certainly at first it was not felt to be sharp. Plenty of Fauves did their whack of theorizing, while some of the theorists are amongst the most sensitive and personal of the age. What I do insist on–because it explains and excuses the character of my book–is that in this age theory has played so prominent a part, hardly one artist of importance quite escaping its influence, that no critic who proposes to give some account of painting since Cezanne can be expected to overlook it: some, to be sure, may be thought to have stared indecently. The division between Fauves and Theorists, I was saying, in the beginning was not sharp; nevertheless, because it was real, already in the first generation of Cezanne’s descendants the seeds of two schools were sown. Already by 1910 two tendencies are visibly distinct; but up to 1914, though there is divergence, there is, I think, no antipathy between them–of antipathies between individuals I say nothing. Solidarity was imposed on the young generation by the virulent and not over scrupulous hostility of the old; it was _l’union sacree_ in face of the enemy. And just as political allies are apt to become fully alive to the divergence of their aims and ambitions only after they have secured their position by victory, so it was not until the new movement had been recognized by all educated people as representative and dominant that the Fauves felt inclined to give vent to their inevitable dislike of Doctrinaires.
Taken as a whole, the first fourteen years of the century, which my malicious friend Jean Cocteau sometimes calls _l’epoque heroique_, possessed most of the virtues and vices that such an epoch should possess. It was rich in fine artists; and these artists were finely prolific. It was experimental, and passionate in its experiments. It was admirably disinterested. Partly from the pressure of opposition, partly because the family characteristics of the Cezannides are conspicuous, it acquired a rather deceptive air of homogeneity. It was inclined to accept recruits without scrutinizing over closely their credentials, though it is to be remembered that it kept its critical faculty sufficiently sharp to reject the Futurists while welcoming the Cubists. I cannot deny, however, that in that moment of enthusiasm and loyalty we were rather disposed to find extraordinary merits in commonplace painters. We knew well enough that a feeble and incompetent disciple of Cezanne was just as worthless as a feeble and incompetent disciple of anyone else–but, then, was our particular postulant so feeble after all? Also, we were fond of arguing that the liberating influence of Cezanne had made it possible for a mediocre artist to express a little store of recondite virtue which under another dispensation must have lain hid for ever. I doubt we exaggerated. We were much too kind, I fancy, to a number of perfectly commonplace young people, and said a number of foolish things about them. What was worse, we were unjust to the past. That was inevitable. The intemperate ferocity of the opposition drove us into Protestantism, and Protestantism is unjust always. It made us narrow, unwilling to give credit to outsiders of merit, and grossly indulgent to insiders of little or none. Certainly we appreciated the Orientals, the Primitives, and savage art as they had never been appreciated before; but we underrated the art of the Renaissance and of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Also, because we set great store by our theories and sought their implications everywhere, we claimed kinship with a literary movement with which, in fact, we had nothing in common. Charles-Louis Philippe and the Unanimistes should never have been compared with the descendants of Cezanne. Happily, when it came to dragging in Tolstoyism, and Dostoievskyism even, and making of the movement something moral and political almost, the connection was seen to be ridiculous and was duly cut.
The protagonists of the heroic epoch (1904–1914 shall we say?) were Matisse and Picasso. In modern European painting Picasso remains the paramount influence; of modern French, however, Derain is the chief; while Matisse, who may still be the best painter alive, has hardly any influence at all. In these early days Derain, considerably younger than Matisse and less precocious than Picasso, was less conspicuous than either; yet he always held a peculiar and eminent position, with an intellect apt for theoretical conundrums and sensibility to match that of any Fauve and his personal genius brooding over both. About the best known of Matisse’s companions–for they were in no sense his disciples–were, I should say, Friesz, Vlaminck, Laprade, Chabaud, Marquet, Manguin, Puy, Delaunay, Rouault, Girieud, Flandrin. I think I am justified in describing all these, with the exception, perhaps, of Girieud and Flandrin, as Fauves; assuredly I have heard them all so described. In very early days Maurice Denis was by some reckoned a chief, the equal almost of Matisse; but through sloppy sentiment he fell into mere futility, and by now has quite dropped out. Friesz, on the other hand, has gone ahead, and is to-day one of the half-dozen leaders: I shall have a good deal to say about him in a later part of this book. Vlaminck a few years ago had the misfortune to learn a recipe for making attractive and sparkling pictures; he is now, I understand, in retirement trying to unlearn it. Rouault is a very interesting artist of whom we see little; from what I have seen I should be inclined to fear that a taste for romance and drama is too often suffered to smother his remarkable gift for painting. Marquet, with gifts equal to almost anything, is content, it seems, to remain a brilliant but superficial impressionist. Puy is a thoroughly sound artist, and so in a smaller way is Manguin. What has become of Chabaud, who was a bit too clever, and a little vulgar even? And what of Delaunay? And of Flandrin–what has become of him? Something sufficiently interesting, at any rate, to give pause even to a critic in a hurry. His name must not go by unmarked. Flandrin was amongst the first to rebel against Impressionism–against that impressionism, I mean, which remained implicit in post-impressionism. Resolutely he set his face against the prevailing habit of expressing an aspect of things, and tried hard to make a picture. So far he has succeeded imperfectly: but he is still trying.
Of one artist who is certainly no Doctrinaire, nor yet, I think, a Fauve, but who has been influenced by Cezanne, I shall here do myself the honour of pronouncing the name. Aristide Maillol is so obviously the best sculptor alive that to people familiar with his work there is something comic about those discussions in which are canvassed the claims of Mestrovic and Epstein, Archipenko and Bourdelle. These have their merits; but Maillol is a great artist. He works in the classical tradition, modified by Cezanne, thanks largely to whom, I imagine, he has freed himself from the impressionism–the tiresome agitation and emphasis–of Rodin. He has founded no school; but one pupil of his, Gimon–a very young sculptor–deserves watching. From the doctrine a small but interesting school of sculpture has come: Laurens, an artist of sensibility and some power, and Lipsitz are its most admired representatives. At home we have Epstein and Dobson; both have been through the stern school of abstract construction, and Epstein has emerged the most brilliant _pasticheur_ alive. Brancuzi (a Bohemian) is, I should say, by temperament more Fauve than Doctrinaire. Older than most of Cezanne’s descendants, he has nevertheless been profoundly influenced by the master; but the delicacy of his touch, which gives sometimes to his modelling almost the quality of Wei sculpture, he learnt from no one–such things not being taught. Gaudier Brzcska, a young French sculptor of considerable promise, was killed in the early months of the war. He had been living in England, where his work, probably on account of its manifest superiority to most of what was seen near it, gained an exaggerated reputation. The promise was indisputable; but, after seeing the Leicester Gallery exhibition, I came to the conclusion that there was not much else. Indeed, his drawings often betrayed so superficial a facility, such a turn for calligraphic dexterities, that one began to wonder whether even in expecting much one had not been over sanguine. The extravagant reputation enjoyed by Gaudier in this country will perhaps cross the mind of anyone who happens to read my essay on Wilcoxism: native, or even resident, geese look uncommonly like swans on home waters: to see them as they are you should see them abroad.
Bonnard and Vuillard, unlike Aristide Maillol, though being sensitive and intelligent artists who make the most of whatever serves their turn they have taken what they wanted from the atmosphere in which they work, are hardly to be counted of Cezanne’s descendants. Rather are they children of the great impressionists who, unlike the majority of their surviving brothers and sisters, instead of swallowing the impressionist doctrine whole, just as official painters do the academic, have modified it charmingly to suit their peculiar temperaments. Not having swallowed the poker, they have none of those stiff and static habits which characterize the later generations of their family. They are free and various; and Bonnard is one of the greatest painters alive. Mistakenly, he is supposed to have influenced Duncan Grant; but Duncan Grant, at the time when he was painting pictures which appear to have certain affinities with those of Bonnard, was wholly unacquainted with the work of that master. On the other hand, it does seem possible that Vuillard has influenced another English painter, Miss Ethel Sands: only, in making attributions of influence one cannot be too careful. About direct affiliations especially, as this case shows, one should never be positive. It is as probable that Miss Sands has been influenced by Sickert, who has much in common with Vuillard, as by Vuillard himself; and most probable of all, perhaps, that the three have inherited from a common ancestor something which each has developed and cultivated as seemed to him or her best. _La recherche de la paternite_ was ever an exciting but hazardous pastime: if Bonnard and Vuillard, in their turn, are claimed, as they sometimes are, for descendants of Renoir, with equal propriety Sickert may be claimed for Degas. And it is worth noting, perhaps, as a curious fact, that in the matter of influence this is about as much as at the moment can be claimed for either of these masters. Both Renoir and Degas lived well on into the period of which I am writing; but though both were admired, the former immensely, neither up to the present has had much direct influence on contemporary painting.
From 1908–I choose that year to avoid all risk of ante-dating–there existed side by side, and apparently in alliance, with the Fauves a school of theoretical painters. Of Cubism I have said my say elsewhere: if I have some doubts as to whether, as a complete theory of painting, it has a future, I have none that what it has already achieved is remarkable. Also, I recognize its importance as a school of experiments, some of which are sure to bear fruit and leave a mark on history. Of the merits of many of its professors I say nothing, because they are manifest and admitted. Picasso stands apart: he is the inventor and most eminent exponent, yet I refuse to call him Cubist because he is so many other things. Braque, who at present confines himself to abstractions, and to taste and sensibility adds creative power, is to my mind the best of the bunch: while Leger, Gris, Gleizes, and Metzinger are four painters who, if they did not limit themselves to a means of expression which to most people is still perplexing, if not disagreeable, would be universally acclaimed for what they are–four exceptionally inventive artists, each possessing his own peculiar and precious sense of colour and design.
But besides these pure doctrinaires there were a good many painters who, without reducing their forms to geometrical abstractions, by modifying them in accordance with Cubist theory gave a new and impressive coherence to their compositions. Of them the best known, in England at all events, is Jean Marchand, whose admirable work has been admired here ever since the Grafton Galleries exhibition of 1912. Lately he has moved away from Cubism, but has not become less doctrinaire for that. Indeed, if I have a fault to find with his grave and masterly art it is that sometimes it is a little wanting in sensibility and inspiration. Marchand is so determined to paint logically and well that he seems a little to forget that in the greatest art there is more than logic and good painting. It is odd to remember that Lhote, who since the war has been saluted by a band of young painters (not French for the most part, I believe) as chief of a new and profoundly doctrinaire school which is to reconcile Cubism with the great tradition, stood at the time of which I am writing pretty much where Marchand stood. His undeniable gifts, which have not failed him since, were then devoted to combining the amusing qualities of the _imagiers_ (popular print-makers) with the new discoveries. The results were consistently pleasing; and I will here confess that, however little I may like some of his later preaching and however little he may like mine, what Lhote produces in paint never fails to arrest me and very seldom to charm. Herbin, who was another of those who about the year 1910 were modifying natural forms in obedience to Cubist theory, has since gone all lengths in the direction of pure abstraction: his art is none the better for it. Valloton, so far as I can remember, was much where Herbin was. Now apparently he aims at the grand tragic; an aim which rarely fails to lead its votaries by way of the grand academic. Perhaps such aspirations can express themselves only in the consecrated formulae of traditional rhetoric; at all events, the last I saw of Valloton was furiously classical. [D] And for all that he remains, what he was in the beginning, an Illustrator.
[Footnote D: His exhibits in the _salon d’automne_ of 1921, however, suggest that he has come off his high horse.]
To me these artists all seem to be of the first generation of Cezanne’s descendants. About the dates of one or two, however, I may well be mistaken; and so may I be when I suppose half a dozen more of whose existence I became aware rather later–only a year or two before the war, in fact–to be of a slightly later brood. For instance, it must have been at the end of 1912, or the beginning of 1913, that I first heard of Modigliani, Utrillo, Segonzac, Marie Laurencin, Luc-Albert Moreau and Kisling, though doubtless all were known earlier to wide-awake men on the spot. None of them can fairly be described as doctrinaire: by that time an artist with a pronounced taste for abstractions betook himself to Cubism almost as a matter of course. All owe much to Cezanne–Utrillo least; Modigliani and Marie Laurencin owe a good deal to Picasso’s blue period; while Luc-Albert Moreau owes something to Segonzac. Of the two first Modigliani is dead and Utrillo so ill that he is unlikely ever to paint again. [E] A strange artist, Utrillo, personal enough, just as Modigliani was handsome enough, to satisfy the exigences of the most romantic melodrama, with a touch of madness and an odd nostalgic passion–expressing itself in an inimitable white–for the dank and dirty whitewash and cheap cast-iron of the Parisian suburbs. Towards the end, when he was already very ill, he began to concoct a formula for dealing with these melancholy scenes which might have been his undoing. His career was of a few years only, but those years were prolific; beginning in a rather old-fashioned, impressionistic style, he soon found his way into the one he has made famous. To judge his art as a whole is difficult: partly because his early productions are not only unequal to, but positively unlike, what he achieved later; partly because many of the Utrillos with which Paris is overstocked were painted by someone else.
[Footnote E: With great pleasure I contradict this. According to latest reports Utrillo is so far recovered that before long he may be painting again.]
Perhaps the most interesting, though neither the most startling nor seductive, of this batch is Segonzac. Like all the best things in nature, he matures slowly and gets a little riper every day; so, as he is already a thoroughly good painter, like the nigger of Saint-Cyr he has but to continue. Before nature, or rather cultivation, with its chocolate ploughed fields and bright green trees, as before the sumptuous splendours of a naked body, his reaction is manifestly, flatteringly, lyrical. He might have been a bucolic rhapsodist had not his sensibility been well under the control of as sound a head as you would expect to find on the shoulders of a gentleman of Gascony. His emotions are kept severely in their place by rigorous concentration on the art of painting. Nevertheless, there are critics who complain that his compositions still tend to lack organization and his forms definition. And perhaps they do sometimes: only in these, as in other respects, his art improves steadily. [F]
[Footnote F: _Salon d’automne_, 1921: It has again made a big stride forward. Segonzac is now amongst the best painters in France.]
“Sa peinture a une petite cote vicieuse qui est adorable”–I have heard the phrase so often that I can but repeat it. Marie Laurencin’s painting is adorable; we can never like her enough for liking her own femininity so well, and for showing all her charming talent instead of smothering it in an effort to paint like a man; but she is not a great artist–she is not even the best woman painter alive. She is barely as good as Dufy (a contemporary of Picasso unless I mistake, but for many years known rather as a decorator and illustrator than a painter in oils) who, while he confined himself to designing for the upholsterers and making “images,” was very good indeed. His oil-paintings are another matter. Dufy has a formula for making pictures; he has a _cliche_ for a tree, a house, a chimney, even for the smoke coming out of a chimney. In this way he can be sure of producing a pretty article, and, what is more, an article the public likes.
Very different is the art of Kisling. Rarely does he produce one of those pictures so appetizing that one fancies they must be good to eat. What you will find in his work, besides much good painting, is a serious preoccupation with the problem of externalizing in form an aesthetic experience. And as, after all, that is the proper end of art his work is treated with respect by all the best painters and most understanding critics, though it has not yet scored a popular success. “Kisling ne triche pas,” says Andre Salmon.
The war did not kill the movement: none but a fool could have supposed that it would. Nevertheless, it had one ghastly effect on contemporary painting. When I returned to Paris in the autumn of 1919 I found the painters whom I had known before the war developing, more or less normally, and producing work which fell nowise short of what one had come to expect. I saw all that there was to be seen; I admired; and then I asked one who had already, before the war, established a style and a reputation–I asked Friesz, I think–“Et les jeunes?” “Nous sommes les jeunes” was the reply. Those young French painters who should have been emerging from the ruck of students between 1914 and 1919 had either been killed, or deflected from their career, or gravely retarded. Only now is _la jeunesse_ beginning to give signs of vitality; only now is a new crop coming to the surface; so now I will take the foolhardy risk of pronouncing the names of a few who seem to me to have given proof of undeniable talent–Gabriel-Fournier, Favory, Lotiron, Soutine, Corneau, Durey, Monzain, Richard, Guindet, Togores, Gromaire, Alix, Halicka. I must not be taken to assert that all of these are under thirty, or that none was known to discerning amateurs before the war, or in its first years at any rate. Certainly, the work of Gabriel-Fournier, Favory, Soutine, and I think of Corneau, was known to me even, through photographs, before the Armistice was signed. As certainly I think it is true that all are of a later crop than Segonzac, Marie Laurencin, Luc-Albert Moreau, etc., while Monzain, Richard, Togores, Gromaire, Alix, Guindet, and Halicka are very young indeed. So here are a dozen painters–most of them little known at present outside a smallish circle of artists, critics, and inquisitive amateurs–who appear to give promise of excellence: amongst them I should be inclined to look for the masters of a coming age. [G]
[Footnote G: Twelve years ago I made a list of young or youngish painters–the men of thirty or thereabouts–from whom it seemed to me reasonable to expect great things. It included such names as Derain, Picasso, Vlaminck, Marchand, Friesz, Maillol, Duncan Grant: one need not be _laudator temporis acti_ to feel that the men of the new generation are on a smaller scale. This merely confirms my often expressed notion that the decade 1875-85 produced a prodigious quantity of greatly gifted babies. On the other hand, if by comparison with the _salon d’automne_ of 1911 that of ‘2l seems unexciting, we must not fail to do justice to the extraordinarily high level of painting that has now been attained. And this confirms another of my pet theories–that we live in an age comparable (so far as painting goes) with the _quattro cento_. The works of even the smallest artists of that age enchant us now, because in that age any man of any talent could make a picture; but doubtless at the time critics and amateurs sighed for the first thrilling years of the movement–for the discoveries of Masaccio and Donatello–and were quite ready to welcome the novelties of the high renaissance when they came. The world moves faster nowadays; already we look regretfully back to the days when Matisse and Picasso were launching the movement, and another high renaissance may be nearer than we suppose.]
To this list I would add, in no spirit of paradox, two names which, at first sight, must appear singularly out of place–Camoin and Guerin. Both were at work before the contemporary movement–the Cezanne movement–was born or, at any rate, launched; both for a long time seemed to be, if anything, opposed to it; both for some years lay dormant in a chrysalis-like state to emerge recently a pair of very interesting painters. The Camoin and the Guerin with whom I am concerned appeared since the war; they may, of course, relapse into their former condition: time will show. Apparently it was only three or four years ago that Camoin realized that Matisse–his contemporary–was the master from whom he could draw that nourishment which one good artist may very legitimately draw from another. So nourished, he seems to have made a fresh start; at any rate his work has now a freshness and vivacity which in his younger days he could never impart. The case of Guerin is odder still. A passionate admirer of Watteau, he would seem to have locked himself up in a rather sterile devotion to the eighteenth century master. One must suppose that there was something dead in his appreciation, something recognized but unfelt, and therefore not really understood. This deadness came through into his work. Lacking genuine inspiration, struggling in consequence to impart life by tricks and conventions, he occasionally allowed himself to tumble into downright vulgarity. Suddenly, and without renouncing any ancient loyalty, he has come to life. It is Watteau that inspires him still; but the essential Watteau–Watteau the painter–not that superficies which is more or less familiar to every hack, be he limner or penman, who dabbles in the eighteenth century. How amusing to fancy that the just admiration now felt for the genius of Watteau by those descendants of Cezanne who formerly misesteemed it has somehow put Guerin himself in the way of becoming intimate with an art he had formerly worshipped at a distance!
Though the war did not kill or even cripple the movement, since the war there has been a change, or, at any rate, a change has become apparent. To begin with, Picasso has, in a sense, retired from public life–from the life of the _cafes_ and studios I mean–and in isolation works out those problems that are for ever presenting themselves to his restless brain. The splendid fruit of his solitude we saw last summer _chez_ Paul Rosenberg. From time to time Picasso still paints a Cubist picture–to keep his mind in–but he is hardly to be reckoned a Cubist, and certainly not a pure one. Of that school, which still flourishes (exhibiting at _la Section d’Or_ or rue de la Baume the work of Braque, Gleizes, Leger, Metzinger, Gris, Laurens, Lipsitz, Marcoussis, Henry Hayden, and the brilliant Irene Lagut), Picasso is the inspiration, perhaps, but not the chief. His influence in the western world and on foreign painters in Paris is as great as ever; but the French, slightly vexed, maybe, at having accepted so long the leadership of a Spaniard, show signs of turning back towards their national tradition. So, though Picasso remains the animator of the doctrinaire school or schools, Lhote may become the master. It is the fashion, I know, not to take his influence seriously. No matter how clever a man he may be, Lhote–they say–is not a big enough painter to be a chief. It may be so–I suspect it is–yet we should not forget that, besides being intelligent and capable of drawing more or less plausible inferences from premises of his own choosing, Lhote can point to a practice by no means despicable. For the rest, he is the apostle of logic and discipline, and so finds plenty to approve in the Cubist doctrine and the French tradition from Poussin to David. I do not know whether Bissiere is to be ranked amongst his disciples–I should think not–but Bissiere, a most attractive artist, is perhaps significant of the new tendency in that he has chosen to express a whimsical temperament in terms of prim science. About the science of picture-making, as the director of the National Gallery calls it, he has little to learn. He knows the masters, the Primitives especially, and has a way, at once logical and fantastic, of playing on their _motifs_ which gives sometimes the happiest results. Bissiere is too fanciful and odd ever to be a _chef d’ecole_ or representative even; but the very fact that, being what he is, he has chosen such means of expression is symptomatic.
So the doctrinaire side of the movement persists, animated by Picasso, and schooled to some extent by Lhote. The main current, however, has found another channel; and, unless I mistake, we are already in the second phase of the movement–a phase in which the revelations of Cezanne and Seurat and the elaborations of their immediate descendants will be modified and revitalized by the pressure and spirit of the great tradition. The leader has already been chosen. Derain is the chief of the new French school–a school destined manifestly to be less cosmopolitan than its predecessor. The tendency towards nationalism everywhere is unmistakeable–a consequence of the war, I suppose. It is useless to deplore the fact or exult in it: one can but accept it as one accepts the weather. Even England has not escaped; and it is to be noted that our best painter, Duncan Grant, a descendant of Cezanne who has run the whole gamut of abstract experiment, is settling down, without of course for a moment denying his master, to exploit the French heritage, with feet planted firmly in the English tradition–the tradition of Gainsborough and Constable. In France, where tradition is so much richer, its weight will confine more closely and drive more intensely the new spirit. One new tendency–that which insists more passionately than ever on order and organization–merely continues the impetus given by Cezanne and received by all his followers; but another, more vague, towards something which I had rather call humanism than humanity, does imply, I think, a definite breach with Cubism and the tenets of the austerer doctrinaires. It is not drama or anecdote or sentiment or symbolism that this would bring back to the plastic arts, but rather that mysterious yet recognizable quality in which the art of Raffael excels–a calm, disinterested, and professional concern with the significance of life as revealed directly in form, a faint desire, perhaps, to touch by a picture, a building, or a simple object of use some curious over-tone of our aesthetic sense. Deep in their quest of that borderland beauty which is common to life and art French painters are once again deeply concerned with life: to borrow an idea from my next essay, they have chosen a new artistic problem. To them, however, “life” does not mean what it means to the sentimentalists or melodramatists, nor even precisely what it meant to the Impressionists. Contemporary French painting has no taste for contemporary actualities. By “life” it understands, not what is going on in the street, but–what to be sure does go on there because it goes on everywhere–the thing that poets used to call “the animating spark.” About life, in that sense, the painters of the new generation will, I fancy, have something to say. They will come at it, not by drama or anecdote or symbol, but, as all genuine artists have always come at whatever possessed their imaginations, by plastic expression, or–if you like old-fashioned phrases–by creating significant form. They will seek the vital principle in all sorts of objects and translate it into forms of every kind. That humane beauty after which Derain strives is to be found, I said, in Raffael: it is to be found also in the Parthenon.
I think this preliminary essay should close, as it began, on a note of humility and with an explanation. Twenty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I remember reading just after it was published M. Camille Mauclair’s little book on the Impressionists. Long ago I ceased much to admire M. Mauclair’s writing: his theorizing and pseudo-science now strike me as silly, and his judgements seem lacking in perspicacity. But whatever I may think of it now I shall not forget what I owe that book. Even at Cambridge the spirit of the age, which is said to pervade the air like a pestilence, had infected me; and I set out on my first visit to Paris full of curiosity about what was then the contemporary movement–at its last gasp. My guide was M. Mauclair; his book it was that put me in the right way. For by bringing me acquainted with current theories and reputations, and by throwing me into a fever of expectation, he brought my aesthetic sensibilities to that state in which they reacted swiftly and generously to the pictures themselves. This, as I shall explain in another essay, is, to my mind, the proper function of criticism. I shall never forget my first visits to the Caillebotte collection; and in the unforgettable thrill of those first visits M. Mauclair’s bad science and erratic judgement counted for something–much perhaps. They put me into a mood of sympathetic expectation; and such a mood is, even for highly sensitive people, often an indispensable preliminary to aesthetic appreciation. There are those who have got to be made to feel something before they can begin to feel for themselves–believe me, they are not the least sensitive or genuine of amateurs: they are only the most honest. I should like very much to do for even one of them what M. Mauclair did for me. It would be delightful to believe that by putting him in the way of the best modern painting and the theories concerning or connected with it–theories which, it seems, for some make it more intelligible–I was giving his sensibility a serviceable jog. Everyone, I know, must see with his own eyes and feel through his own nerves; none can lend another eyes or emotions: nevertheless, one can point and gesticulate and in so doing excite. If I have done that I am content. Twenty years hence, it is to be presumed, those who now read my writings will be saying of them what I was saying of M. Mauclair’s. The prospect does not distress me. I am not author enough to be pained by the certainty that in ten years’ time this book will be obsolete. Like M. Mauclair’s, it will have served its turn; and I make no doubt there will be someone at hand to write another, the same in purpose, and in execution let us hope rather neater.
We all agree now–by “we” I mean intelligent people under sixty–that a work of art is like a rose. A rose is not beautiful because it is like something else. Neither is a work of art. Roses and works of art are beautiful in themselves. Unluckily, the matter does not end there: a rose is the visible result of an infinitude of complicated goings on in the bosom of the earth and in the air above, and similarly a work of art is the product of strange activities in the human mind. In so far as we are mere spectators and connoisseurs we need not bother about these; all we are concerned with is the finished product, the work of art. To produce the best eggs it may be that hens should be fed on hot meal mash. That is a question for the farmer. For us what matters is the quality of the eggs, since it is them and not hot meal mash that we propose to eat for breakfast. Few, however, can take quite so lordly an attitude towards art. We contemplate the object, we experience the appropriate emotion, and then we begin asking “Why?” and “How?” Personally, I am so conscious of these insistent questions that, at the risk of some misunderstanding, I habitually describe works of art as “significant” rather than “beautiful” forms. For works of art, unlike roses, are the creations and expressions of conscious minds. I beg that no theological red herring may here be drawn across the scent.
A work of art is an object beautiful, or significant, in itself, nowise dependent for its value on the outside world, capable by itself of provoking in us that emotion which we call aesthetic. Agreed. But men do not create such things unconsciously and without effort, as they breathe in their sleep. On the contrary, for their production are required special energies and a peculiar state of mind. A work of art, like a rose, is the result of a string of causes: and some of us are so vain as to take more interest in the operations of the human mind than in fertilizers and watering-pots.
In the pre-natal history of a work of art I seem to detect at any rate three factors–a state of peculiar and intense sensibility, the creative impulse, and the artistic problem. An artist, I imagine, is one who often and easily is thrown into that state of acute and sympathetic agitation which most of us, once or twice in our lives, have had the happiness of experiencing. And have you noticed that many men and most boys, when genuinely in love, find themselves, the moment the object of their emotion is withdrawn, driven by their feelings into scribbling verses? An artist, I imagine, is always falling in love with everything. Always he is being thrown into a “state of mind.” The sight of a tree or an omnibus, the screaming of whistles or the whistling of birds, the smell of roast pig, a gesture, a look, any trivial event may provoke a crisis, filling him with an intolerable desire to express himself. The artist cannot embrace the object of his emotion. He does not even wish to. Once, perhaps, that was his desire; if so, like the pointer and the setter, he has converted the barbarous pouncing instinct into the civilized pleasure of tremulous contemplation. Be that as it may, the contemplative moment is short. Simultaneously almost with the emotion arises the longing to express, to create a form that shall match the feeling, that shall commemorate the moment of ecstasy.
This moment of passionate apprehension is, unless I mistake, the source of the creative impulse; indeed, the latter seems to follow so promptly on the former that one is often tempted to regard them as a single movement. The next step is longer. The creative impulse is one thing; creation another. If the artist’s form is to be the equivalent of an experience, if it is to be significant in fact, every scrap of it has got to be fused and fashioned in the white heat of his emotion. And how is his emotion to be kept at white heat through the long, cold days of formal construction? Emotions seem to grow cold and set like glue. The intense power and energy called forth by the first thrilling vision grow slack for want of incentive. What engine is to generate the heat and make taut the energies by which alone significant form can be created? That is where the artistic problem comes in.
The artistic problem is the problem of making a match between an emotional experience and a form that has been conceived but not created. Evidently the conception of some sort of form accompanies, or closely follows, the creative impulse. The artist says, or rather feels, to himself: I should like to express that in words, or in lines and colours, or in notes. But to make anything out of his impulse he will need something more than this vague desire to express or to create. He will need a definite, fully conceived form into which his experience can be made to fit. And this fitting, this matching of his experience with his form, will be his problem. It will serve the double purpose of concentrating his energies and stimulating his intellect. It will be at once a canal and a goad. And his energy and intellect between them will have to keep warm his emotion. Shakespeare kept tense the muscle of his mind and boiling and racing his blood by struggling to confine his turbulent spirit within the trim mould of the sonnet. Pindar, the most passionate of poets, drove and pressed his feelings through the convolutions of the ode. Bach wrote fugues. The master of St. Vitale found an equivalent for his disquieting ecstasies in severely stylistic portraits wrought in an intractable medium. Giotto expressed himself through a series of pictured legends. El Greco seems to have achieved his stupendous designs by labouring to make significant the fustian of theatrical piety.
There is apparently nothing that an artist cannot vivify. He can create a work of art out of some riddle in engineering or harmonics, an anecdote, or the frank representation of a natural object. Only, to be satisfactory, the problem must be for him who employs it a goad and a limitation. A goad that calls forth all his energies; a limitation that focuses them on some object far more precise and comprehensible than the expression of a vague sensibility, or, to say the same thing in another way, the creation of indefinite beauty. However much an artist may have felt, he cannot just sit down and express it; he cannot create form in the vague. He must sit down to write a play or a poem, to paint a portrait or a still life.
Almost everyone has had his moment of ecstasy, and the creative impulse is not uncommon; but those only who have a pretty strong sense of art understand the necessity for the artistic problem. What is known of it by the public is not much liked; it has a bad name and is reckoned unsympathetic. For the artistic problem, which limits the artist’s freedom, fixes his attention on a point, and drives his emotion through narrow tubes, is what imports the conventional element into art. It seems to come between the spontaneous thrill of the artist and the receptive enthusiasm of his public with an air of artificiality. Thus, a generation brought up on Wordsworth could hardly believe in the genuineness of Racine. Our fathers and grandfathers felt, and felt rightly, that art was something that came from and spoke to the depths of the human soul. But how, said they, should deep call to deep in Alexandrines and a pseudo-classical convention, to say nothing of full-bottomed wigs? They forgot to reckon with the artistic problem, and made the mistake that people make who fancy that nothing looking so unlike a Raphael or a Titian as a Matisse or a Picasso can be a work of art. They thought that because the stuff of art comes from the depths of human nature it can be expressed only in terms of naturalism. They did not realize that the creating of an equivalent for an aesthetic experience out of natural speech or the common forms of nature is only one amongst an infinite number of possible problems. There are still ladies who feel sure that had they been in Laura’s shoes Petrarch might have experienced something more vivid than what comes through his mellifluous but elaborate _rime_. To them he would have expressed himself otherwise. Possibly: but whatever he experienced could not have become art–significant form–till it had been withdrawn from the world of experience and converted into poetry by some such exacting problem.
One problem in itself is as good as another, just as one kind of nib is as good as another, since problems are valuable only as means. That problem is best for any particular artist that serves that particular artist best. The ideal problem will be the one that raises his power most while limiting his fancy least. The incessant recourse of European writers to dramatic form suggests that here is a problem which to them is peculiarly favourable. Its conventions, I suppose, are sufficiently strict to compel the artist to exert himself to the utmost, yet not so strict as to present those appalling technical difficulties–the sort presented by a sestina or a chant royal–that make self-expression impossible to any but a consummate master. The novel, on the other hand, as we are just beginning to suspect, affords for most writers an unsatisfactory, because insufficiently rigorous, problem. Each age has its favourites. Indeed, the history of art is very much the history of the problem. The stuff of art is always the same, and always it must be converted into form before it can become art; it is in their choice of converting-machines that the ages differ conspicuously.
Two tasks that painters and writers sometimes set themselves are often mistaken for artistic problems, but are, in fact, nothing of the sort. One is literal representation: the other the supply of genius direct from the cask. To match a realistic form with an aesthetic experience is a problem that has served well many great artists: Chardin and Tolstoi will do as examples. To make a realistic form and match it with nothing is no problem at all. Though to say just what the camera would say is beyond the skill and science of most of us, it is a task that will never raise an artist’s temperature above boiling-point. A painter may go into the woods, get his thrill, go home and fetch his panel-box, and proceed to set down in cold blood what he finds before him. No good can come of it, as the gloomy walls of any official exhibition will show. Realistic novels fail for the same reason: with all their gifts, neither Zola, nor Edmond de Goncourt, nor Mr. Arnold Bennett ever produced a work of art. Also, a thorough anarchist will never be an artist, though many artists have believed that they were thorough anarchists. One man cannot pour an aesthetic experience straight into another, leaving out the problem. He cannot exude form: he must set himself to create a particular form. Automatic writing will never be poetry, nor automatic scrabbling design. The artist must submit his creative impulse to the conditions of a problem. Often great artists set their own problems; always they are bound by them. That would be a shallow critic who supposed that Mallarme wrote down what words he chose in what order he pleased, unbound by any sense of a definite form to be created and a most definite conception to be realized. Mallarme was as severely bound by his problem as was Racine by his. It was as definite–for all that it was unformulated–as absolute, and as necessary. The same may be said of Picasso in his most abstract works: but not of all his followers, nor of all Mallarme’s either.
Was he really a great painter? A new generation is beginning to ask the question that we answered, once and for all as we thought, ten years ago. Yes, of course, the _douanier_ was–a remarkable painter. The man who influenced Derain, and to some extent Picasso, is not likely to have been less. But a great painter? For the present, at any rate, let us avoid great words.
In 1903, when first I lived in Paris, Rousseau appeared to be very much “in the movement.” That was because by nature he was what thoughtful and highly trained artists were making themselves by an effort: he was direct. To us it seemed, in those days, that a mass of scientific irrelevancies and intellectual complications had come between the artist and his vision, and, again, between the vision and its expression. In a desperately practical and well-organized age, which recognized objects by their labels and never dreamed of going beneath these to discover the things themselves, artists, we thought, were in danger of losing the very stuff of which visual art is made–the direct, emotional reaction to the visible universe. People had grown so familiar with the idea of a cup, with that purely intellectual label “cup,” that they never looked at a particular cup and felt its emotional significance. Also, professional painters had provided themselves with a marvellous scientific apparatus for describing “the idea of a cup” in line and colour: they had at their fingers’ ends a plastic notation that corresponded with the labels by which things are intellectually recognized. They neither felt things nor expressed their feelings. For even when an artist was capable of a direct, personal reaction it was almost impossible for him not to lose it in the cogs and chains of that elaborate machinery of scientific representation to which he had been apprenticed. A determination to free artists from utilitarian vision and the disastrous science of representation was the theoretic basis of that movement which is associated with the name of Cezanne.
From the latter, at any rate, the _douanier_ needed no freeing. Such science as he acquired in the course of his life was a means to expressing himself and not to picture-making. As for his vision, that was as direct and first-hand as the vision of a Primitive or a child; and to a Primitive his admirers were in the habit of likening him, to a child his detractors. His admirers were right: his art is not childish. Primitives, because they are artists, have to grapple with the artistic problem. They have, that is, to create form that will express an emotional conception; they have to express their sense of something they have seen and felt. A child may well have an artistic vision; for all that, a child is never, or hardly ever, an artist. It wrestles with no problem because it does not try to express anything. It is a mere symbolist who uses a notation not to express what it feels but to convey information. A child’s drawing of a horse is not an expression of its sense of a horse, but a symbol by which other people can recognize that what occupies a certain position in its figured story is a horse. The child is not an artist, but an illustrator who uses symbolism. When, using Mr. Bertrand Russell’s new symbolism, I say that L^c3nI–C^ct = the Almighty, clearly I am not expressing my feeling for infinite and omnipotent goodness. Neither does the child who teases you to look at its charming coloured diagram of the farmyard expect you to share an emotional experience. Doubtless the vanity of the craftsman demands satisfaction; but chiefly the child wishes to assure itself that some impartial judge can interpret its notation. One definitely artistic gift, however, many children do possess, and that is a sense of the decorative possibilities of their medium. This gift they have in common with the Primitives; and this the _douanier_ possessed in an extraordinary degree.
Of Rousseau’s sense of the decorative possibilities of paint it is, I suppose, unnecessary to say anything. Gauguin called his black “inimitable.” But, indeed, we all agree now that, if the term “decorative” is to be used in this limited and rather injurious sense, Rousseau, as a decorator, takes rank with the very greatest. More important is it to realize that Rousseau had his problem; and that he approached it in the spirit of a Primitive. His reactions were as simple and genuine as those of any child; he experienced them with that passion which alone provokes to creation; his problem was to express them sincerely and simply in the medium of which he could make such exquisite use. His vision was as unsophisticated as that of Orcagna, and in translating it he was as conscientious; but he was a smaller artist because he was less of an artist.
It has been said that Rousseau came short of greatness for want of science. That I do not believe. Can it be supposed that any man who has applied himself intelligently to any art for forty years will not have acquired science enough to state clearly what is clear, intense, and clamoring for expression in his mind? I see no reason for supposing that Rousseau ever failed from lack of science to express himself completely. The fault was in what he had to express. Rousseau was inferior to the great Primitives because he lacked their taste, or, to put the matter more forcibly, because he was less of an artist. An artist’s conception should be like a perfectly cooked pudding–cooked all through and in every part. His problem is to create an expressive form that shall fit exactly an artistic conception. His subject may be what he pleases. But unless that subject has been carried to the high regions of art, and there, in a dry aesthetic atmosphere, sealed up in a purely aesthetic conception it can never be externalized in pure form. That is what the great Primitives did, and what the _douanier_ could not do always. In his pudding there are doughy patches. He is sentimental; and he is not sentimental as Raphael and El Greco are.
With a race of genteel, but strangely obtuse, critics it was formerly the fashion to depreciate Raphael and El Greco on the ground that they were sentimental. Sentimental they are, in a sense. Their subjects are sentimental; and the religiosity of some of Greco’s is downright disgusting. But of these subjects every scrap has been passed through the blazing furnace of conception and fused into artistic form. It is as though a potter, working with dirty hands, had left a stain burnt by the fire into his gloriously fashioned clay. The blemish is superficial; the form is untouched. With Rousseau it is otherwise: lumps of unfused matter break through his conception and into his design; his pudding is not thoroughly baked. Take that well-known picture of his, _Le Present et le Passe_, which used to be in the Jastrebzoff collection, and of which photographs are familiar to everyone: the two silly, detached heads in the sky, stuck in for sentiment’s sake, are, as the saying goes, “out of the picture” and yet play the devil with it. They injure the design. What is more, in themselves they are as feeble and commonplace as the drawing of a pavement artist, which, in fact, they resemble. They are unfelt, that is the explanation–unfelt aesthetically. They have not been through the oven. They are artistically insincere. Sentimentality makes strange bedfellows. Rousseau has slipped into the very hole wherein Mr. Frank Dixie and Sir Luke Fildes disport themselves; only, by betraying his vice in a picture that is, for the most part, so exquisitely sure in its simple, delicate expression of a frank and charming vision he gives us an impressive example of the danger, even to a good artist, of bad taste.
And there is another fault in Rousseau that springs from this lack of complete artistic integrity. He is something plebeian: he suffers a slightly self-complacent good-fellowship to creep into his pictures. Occasionally there grins through his design, and ever so little disfigures it, a touch of fatuity. He cannot help being glad that he is so simple and so good, nor quite resist telling us about it. Look at that portrait of himself–and I impose a most agreeable task, for it is charming–that portrait dated 1890, and belonging also to M. Jastrebzoff; do you not feel that the author is a little too well pleased with himself? Do you not fancy that he will soon be regaling his sitter with a good, round platitude from the exterior boulevards or a morsel from some regimental ditty in which he once excelled, that, in another moment, he will be tapping him on the back, and that he has gone a little out of his way to tell you these things? The Primitives tell us nothing of that sort; they stick to their business of creating significant form. Whatever of their personalities may reach us has passed through the transmuting fires of art: they never prattle. The Primitives are always distinguished; whereas occasionally the _douanier_ is as much the reverse as the more successful painters to the British aristocracy are always.
Yet I daresay it was this jovial and unaffected good-fellowship, quite as much as his unquestionable genius, that won the brave _douanier_ his place in the hearts of those brilliant people who frequented what he used to call his “soirees toutes familiales et artistiques.” The artists and intellectuals of my generation–the generation that received and went down before the terrific impact of Dostoievskyism–pursued the simple and unsophisticated at least as earnestly as any follower of an earlier Rousseau. Whatever the real differences between a noble savage and an unspoilt artisan may be, the difference between the ideas of them with which a jaded society diverts itself is negligible. “Il nous faut les barbares,” said Gide. Well, we have got them. [H] And, maybe, the next generation but one will make as much fuss about a new Matthew Arnold as we made about Marguerite Audoux.
[Footnote H: This essay was written a few weeks after the signing of the Armistice.]
Meanwhile the _douanier_ came at the right moment. His “soirees toutes familiales et artistiques” were crowded with admirers–Picasso, Delaunay, Duhamel, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jules Romain, Max Jacob, Rene Arcos, Braque, Andre Salmon, Soffici, Blanche Albane, Marie Laurencin, elegant and eminent people from North and South America, Russia, Germany, and Scandinavia, to say nothing of his pupils (he professed both painting and music) and “les demoiselles de son quartier.” The entertainment consisted, if I may trust an ear-witness, of a little bad music worse played, a little declamation, a glass of wine, and democracy untainted with the least suspicion of snobbery. There was a delicious absence of culture, on the one hand, and of romantic squalor on the other. The whole thing was solidly and sympathetically lower middle-class. The “soiree tant familiale qu’artistique” closed with a performance of the Marseillaise; and the intelligentsia retired to bed feeling that life was full of beauty and significance.
[Illustration: MATISSE (_Photo: E. Druet_)]
[Footnote I: _Paul Cezanne_. Par Ambroise Vollard. (Paris: Cres. 4fr. 75.)]
It was the opinion of Degas that “le peintre en general est bete,” and most people seem to think that Cezanne was no exception to the rule. Before agreeing, I should want to know what precisely they understood by the word “bete.” Cezanne was silly certainly, but he was not stupid: he was limited and absurd, but not dull; his opinions for the most part were conventional, but his intelligence was not common; and his character was as obviously that of a man of genius as the most ardent hero-worshipper could desire.
Cezanne was a great character. It is a mistake to suppose that great characters are always agreeable ones. Few people, I imagine, found Cezanne agreeable; yet painters, one would suppose, were eager to meet him that they might hear what he had to say about painting. Cezanne’s ideas on painting are not like ideas at all: they are like sensations; they have the force of sensations. They seem to give the sense of what was in his mind by a method more direct than the ordinary intellectual one. His meaning reaches us, not in a series of pellets, but in a block. These sayings of his remind one oddly of his art; and some of his comments on life are hardly less forcible and to the point. This, for instance, provoked by Zola’s “L’Oeuvre,” is something more than a professional opinion:
On ne peut pas exiger d’un homme qui ne sait pas, qu’il dise des choses raisonnables sur l’art de peindre; mais, N. de D—- et Cezanne se mit a taper comme un sourd sur sa table–comment peut-il oser dire qu’un peintre se tue parce qu’il a fait un mauvais tableau? Quand un tableau n’est pas realise, on le f… au feu, et on en recommence un autre!
_Realise_–Cezanne’s incessant complaint that “he was unable to realize” has been taken by many stupid people to imply that Cezanne was conscious in himself of some peculiar and slightly humiliating inhibition from which his fellows were free; and even M. Vollard has thought it necessary to be continually apologizing for and explaining away the phrase, which, moreover, he never does explain. Yet the explanation is as simple as can be. Genius of the very highest order never, probably, succeeds in completely realizing its conceptions, because its conceptions are unrealizable. When Cezanne envied M. Bouguereau his power of realization he was perfectly sincere and perfectly sensible. A Bouguereau can realize completely the little nasty things that are in his mind: if a Cezanne, a Shakespeare, or an AEschylus could realize as completely all that was in his the human race would think more of itself than it does. Cezanne’s consciousness of the impossibility of realizing completely his conceptions–his consciousness, rather, that he had not completely realized them–made him regard all his pictures as unfinished. Some day, he thought–or liked to believe–he would push them a little further. His habit of destroying his own works, however, had nothing to do with any sense of failure or incapacity. It was simply a manifestation of rage and a means of appeasement. Some people like cups and saucers: Cezanne preferred oil-paintings, and his own were always to hand. A word of commendation for “les professeurs” (“qui n’ont rien dans le ven_._._n_._._tr_._._re–les salauds–les chatres–les j_._f_._._._s”) or the least denigration of Chardin or Delacroix was sure to cost a still-life or a water-colour at any rate.
It is surprising that M. Vollard should not have made this more clear, for he certainly understood the genius and character of Cezanne. His book is an amazingly vivid presentment of both; and to have made such a book out of the life of a man whose whole life went into the art of painting is a remarkable feat. For Cezanne poured all his prodigious energy and genius into a funnel that ended in the point of his brush. He was a painter if ever there was one, and he was nothing else; he had no notion of being anything else. There is enough in Paris, one would have supposed, to attract from himself for a moment the attention of the most preoccupied and self-absorbed of men. When Cezanne lived in Paris he rose early, painted as long as there was light to paint by, and went to bed immediately after dinner. The time during which he was not painting he seems to have spent in wondering whether the light would be satisfactory (“gris clair”) next day. Cezanne in Paris, like the peasant in the country, spent most of his spare time thinking about the weather.
Comme il se couchait de tres bonne heure, il lui arrivait de s’eveiller au milieu de la nuit. Hante par son idee fixe, il ouvrait la fenetre. Une fois rassure, avant de regagner son lit il allait, une bougie a la main, revoir l’etude qui etait en train. Si l’impression etait bonne, il reveillait sa femme pour lui faire partager sa satisfaction. Et pour la dedommager de ce derangement, il l’invitait a faire une partie de dames.
All of Cezanne went into his painting; only now and then a drop escaped that voracious funnel and splashed on to life. It is by collecting and arranging these odd drops and splashes that M. Vollard has managed to construct his lively picture of this extraordinary character. It is because his task must have been so abominably exacting–the task of catching the artist outside his work–that we easily forgive him a few lapses from good sense when he is not talking about his hero. It is annoying, nevertheless, to hear quite so much of the stupid and insensitive people who attacked and insulted Cezanne. M. Vollard never tires of telling us about those who hid their Cezannes or threw them out of window, or sold them for next to nothing and would now give their eyes to get them back; of those who jeered at Cezanne and would not hang his pictures at exhibitions, refusing him that public recognition he was human enough to covet–in a word, of the now discomfited and penitent majority. I had thoughts once of printing a selection from the press-cuttings that reached us at the Grafton Galleries during the first Post-Impressionist exhibition. It would have revealed our leading critics and experts, our professors and directors, our connoisseurs, our more cultivated dealers and our most popular painters vying with each other in heaping abuse and ridicule on the heads of Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. The project is abandoned. That sort of thing I perceive becomes a bore. And I only wish M. Vollard had perceived it when he was writing about Zola. Zola failed to appreciate Cezanne, of course. Zola was an ordinary middle-class man: he was vain, vulgar, petty; he longed for the consideration of people like himself, and was therefore ostentatious; he had a passion for money and notoriety; he wanted to be thought not only clever but good; he preached, he deprecated, he took a moral standpoint and judged by results; and his taste was execrable. We meet people of Zola’s sort every day in third-class railway carriages and first, on the tops of omnibuses and in Chelsea drawing-rooms, at the music-hall, at the opera, at classical concerts, and in Bond Street galleries. We take them for granted and are perfectly civil to them. So why, because he happened to have an astonishing gift of statement and rapid generalization, should Zola be treated as though he were a monster? Though Diggle, the billiards champion, care little or nothing for poetry, he may have an excellent heart, as well as a hand far surpassing in dexterity that of our most accomplished portrait-painters. No one dreams of reviling him.
Let us be equally just to Zola; let us notice, too, how amusingly he sets off Cezanne. Both were greatly gifted men: neither was the man of intelligence and talent, the brilliant man with the discursive intellect, who carries his gift about with him, takes it out when and where he pleases, and applies it where and how he likes. Zola, when he was not using his gift, posed as an artist, a saint, or simply “a great man”; but he never contrived to be anything but a bourgeois–a “sale bourgeois,” according to Cezanne. Cezanne was all gift: seen as anything but a painter he looked like a fool. At Aix he tried to pass for a respectable _rentier_; he found no difficulty in being silly, but he could not achieve the necessary commonplaceness. He could not be vulgar. He was always an artist.
Instead of telling us so much about Zola and _tutti quanti_ M. Vollard might have told us more about Cezanne’s artistic development. What, for instance, is the history of his relations with Impressionism? The matter is to me far from clear. Cezanne began his artistic life amongst the Impressionists, he was reckoned a disciple of Pissarro; yet it is plain from his early work that he never swallowed much of the doctrine. Gradually he came to think that the Impressionists were on the wrong tack, that their work was flimsy and their theory misleading, that they failed to “realize.” He dreamed of combining their delicate vision, their exquisite _sensation_, with a more positive and elaborate statement. He wanted to make of Impressionism “quelque chose de solide et de durable comme l’art des Musees.” He succeeded. But at what moment did his dissent become acute, and to what extent was he aware from the first of its existence? Towards the end of his life he took to scolding the Impressionists, but one fancies that he was never very willing that anyone else should abuse them. “Regardez,” said he to a young painter who had caught him coming out of church one stormy Sunday morning, as he pointed to a puddle touched by a sudden ray of sunlight, “comment voulez-vous rendre cela? Il faut se mefier, je vous le dis, des Impressionnistes_…_Tout de meme, ils voient juste!”
The critical moment in Cezanne’s life–if in such a life one moment may without impertinence be thought more critical than another–must have come somewhere about 1870. M. Vollard once asked him what he did during the war. “Ecoutez un peu, monsieur Vollard! Pendant la guerre j’ai beaucoup travaille sur le motif a l’Estaque.” M. Vollard is too good a patriot to add that during the war he also went into hiding, having been called up for military service. Cezanne, I am sorry to say, was an _insoumis_–a deserter. He seems to have supposed that he had something more important to do than to get himself killed for his country. It was not only in art that Cezanne gave proof of a surprisingly sure sense of values. Some fulsome journalist, wishing to flatter the old man after he had become famous, represented him hugging a tree and, with tears in his eyes, crying: “Comme je voudrais, celui-la, le transporter sur ma toile!” For a moment Cezanne contemplated the picture in terrified amazement, then exclaimed: “Dites, monsieur Vollard, c’est effrayant, la vie!” Useless to blame the particular imbecile: it was the world in which such things were possible that filled him with dismay. I stretch my hand towards a copy of the _Burlington Magazine_ and come plumb on the following by the present Director of the Tate Gallery:
The truth is that the ecstasy of art and good actions are closely interrelated, the one leading to the other in endless succession or possibly even progression.
“Dites, monsieur Vollard, c’est effrayant, la vie!” [J]
[Footnote J: Since writing these words I learn that the director of the Tate Gallery has been unable to find, in his series of vast rooms, space for two small and fine works by Cezanne. It is some consolation to know that he has found space for more than twenty by Professor Tonks.]
[Footnote K: _Renoir_. Par Albert Andre. Cres et Cie.]
Renoir is the greatest painter alive. [L] There are admirers of Matisse and admirers of Picasso who will contradict that, though the artists themselves would probably agree. Also, there are admirers of M. Bouguereau and of Sir Marcus Stone, there are Italian Futurists and members of the New English Art Club, with whom one bandies no words. Renoir is the greatest painter alive.
[Footnote L: This essay was written in 1919. He died in 1920.]
He is over forty: to be exact, he is seventy-seven years old. Yet, in the teeth of modern theories that have at least the air of physiological certainties, one must admit that he is still alive. A comparison between the five-and-thirty photographs reproduced by M. Besson and those at the end of Herr Meier-Graefe’s monograph suggests that even since 1910 his art has developed. But what is certain is that, during his last period, since 1900 that is to say, though so crippled by rheumatism that it is with agonizing difficulty he handles a brush, he has produced works that surpass even the masterpieces of his middle age.
Renoir was born in 1841, and in ’54 bound prentice to a china-painter. A fortunate invention deprived him of this means of livelihood and drove him into oil. He escaped early from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and, of course, came under the influence of Courbet. By 1863 he was being duly refused at the Salon and howled at by the respectable mob. He thus made one of the famous _Salon des Refuses_, and has, in consequence, been generally described as an “Impressionist.” It is an honour he neither desires nor deserves. The pure doctrine of Impressionism, as formulated by Claude Monet, enjoins “scientific truth” and submission to Nature, whereas Renoir observed one day to an astonished disciple, “Avec la Nature on ne fait rien”; and on being asked where, then, the student should learn his art added, without any apparent sign of shame or sense of sin–“Au musee, parbleu!”
Renoir thus affirmed what every artist knows, that art is the creation and not the imitation of form. In his eyes the most valuable part of an artist’s education is the intelligent study of what other artists have done. For his own part he studied Courbet and then Delacroix, and, assuredly, from these picked up useful hints for converting sensibility into significant form. Sensibility he never lacked. Renoir’s painting gift may, without unpardonable silliness, be compared with the singing gift of Mozart. His conspicuous characteristics are loveliness and ease. No painter, I suppose, gives more delight, or gives it more frankly. That is why his name provokes an odd, personal enthusiasm in thousands of people who have never seen him. That is why Frenchmen, who have sometimes a terribly intimate way of explaining themselves, have been known to assert that they feel for Renoir the sort of grateful affection that every sensitive man feels for a woman who has given him joy.
But Renoir’s natural masters–parents one would say if a man could have more than two–were Fragonard, Boucher, and Watteau. These, two of whom he has surpassed, with Rubens, whom he almost equals, are responsible for most of what is derivative in his art during his first great period (1870-1881). That this should be the period beloved of amateurs does not surprise me. It is the period of _Mme. Maitre_ (1871), _La Loge_ (1874), _Moulin de la Galette_ (1876), and _M. Choquet_–“portrait d’un fou par un fou,” Renoir calls it–pictures of ravishing loveliness to set dancing every chord in a spectator of normal sensibility. Also, it is a period that has an extraordinary charm for the literary connoisseur. It throws glamour over the “seventies,” and, for that matter, on to the “eighties.” Here are the characters of Flaubert and Maupassant as we should wish them to be. That _dejeuner_ by the Seine was probably organized by the resourceful Jean de Servigny, and there, sure enough, is Yvette with a fringe. The purest of painters becomes historical by accident. He expresses the unalloyed sensibility of an artist in terms of delicious contemporary life and gives us, adventitiously, romance. A fascinating period, but not the great one.
Towards the end of 1881 Renoir set out on a tour in Italy, and, as if to show how little he was affected by what he found there, painted at Naples a large and important _Baigneuse_ (now in the Durand-Ruel collection) in which I can discover not the slightest trace of Italian influence. He is too thorough a Frenchman to be much of anything else. The emphatic statement and counter-statement of the great Primitives is not in his way. He prefers to insinuate. Even in his most glorious moments he is discreet and tactful, fonder of a transition than an opposition, never passionate. The new thing that came into his art about this time, and was to affect it for the next twenty years, was not Italy but Ingres.
The influence was at first an unhappy one. During three or four years, unable, it seems, to match the new conception of form with his intensely personal reaction, Renoir produced a certain number of unconvincing and uncharacteristic pictures (_e.g._, the dance series, _Dance a la Ville_, etc.). There is an uneasy harshness about the contours, the forms are imperfectly felt, they are wooden even, and in their placing one misses the old inevitability. Signed with another name these essays might by a dashing critic be called doctrinaire. Then in 1885 came the first _Baigneuses_ (collection J.E. Blanche), whereby Renoir put himself a good head above all contemporaries save Cezanne. If this picture were hung in a public gallery, and the numerous drawings made for it ranged alongside, how finely discredited would be those knowing ones who, in their desire to emphasize the difference between form and that of which form is composed, are in the habit of calling Renoir a great colourist and then pausing impressively. I suppose it is because he rarely uses a lead pencil that the wiseacres are able to fulfil their destiny. Drawing in charcoal or pastel need not be taken seriously; while drawing with the brush is apparently not drawing at all. That Renoir is a great draughtsman may be inferred from almost everything he has ever done. But (though that amazing _Boy with a Cat_ was achieved as early as 1868) it is the work of this period–and _Les Baigneuses_, with its attendant studies, are capital examples–that makes patent his mastery and entitles him obviously to a place between Ingres and Daumier.
That it should be difficult to find a date for the beginning of Renoir’s last period does not much trouble me; but I am sorry that it is quite impossible to indicate in words its character. One can say confidently that the new conception was being elaborated between 1895 and 1900; one can suppose that its final character was to some extent imposed on the master by his growing infirmities. A painter who can hardly move arm or fingers will neither sweep nor wiggle. He must paint, if he is to paint at all, in blobs and smears and patches and soft strokes; and it is out of these that Renoir’s latest works are built up. “Built up”–the expression is absurd. Rather, it is as though forms had been melted down to their component colours, and the pool of iridescent loveliness thus created fixed by a touch of the master’s magic–lightly frozen over by an enchanting frost. Only ice is cold. At any rate, what happens to the spectator is that first he perceives a tangle of rather hot and apparently inharmonious tones; gradually he becomes aware of a subtle, astonishing, and unlooked-for harmony; finally, from this harmony emerge completely realized and exquisitely related forms. After which, if he has any sense of art, he remains spellbound and uncritical, and ceases to bother about how the thing was done. That, at least, is my impression of Renoir’s latest style. Examples of it abound in Paris, notably M. Maurice Gangnat’s collection; and it is said that the artist intends these pictures to improve by keeping.
In his pleasant, well-written introduction M. Albert Andre gives a portrait of Renoir that is almost too good to be true: we are encouraged to believe just what we should like to believe. It is incredibly sympathetic. Yet it is very much what we might have guessed from the pictures had we dared. And, indeed, we did dare–some of us; for, besides its purely aesthetic character, its French taste and tact, the art of Renoir has over-tones to which the literary and historical intelligence cannot choose but listen. An intimate eulogy of France by a most lovable Frenchman is what, in our lazy moods, we allow these pictures to give us. They do it charmingly. For instance, though I never saw a Renoir that could justify a district visitor in showing more of her teeth than nature had already discovered, here, unmistakably, are Parisians enjoying themselves in their own Parisian way. Here is the France of the young man’s fancy and the old man’s envious dreams. Here, if you please, you may smell again that friture that ate so well, one Sunday at Argenteuil, twenty years ago, in the company of a young poet who must have had genius and two models who were certainly divine. And that group with the fat, young mother suckling her baby–there is all French frankness and French tenderness and family feeling without a trace of its wonted grimness and insincerity.
Renoir is as French as French can be, and he knows it:
Lorsque je regarde les maitres anciens je me fais l’effet d’un bien petit bonhomme, et pourtant je crois que de tous mes ouvrages il restera assez pour m’assurer une place dans l’ecole francaise, cette ecole que j’aime tant, qui est si gentille, si claire, de si bonne compagnie… Et pas tapageuse.
Renoir will have his place in that school, but another niche has been prepared for him amongst an even grander company. When, in 1917, _Les Parapluies_ (a beautiful but not very characteristic work) was placed in the National Gallery some hundred English artists and amateurs seized the opportunity of sending the master a testimony of their admiration which, rather to their surprise and to their intense joy, apparently gave pleasure. In this they said:
Des l’instant ou votre tableau s’est trouve installe parmi les chefs-d’oeuvre des maitres anciens, nous avons eu la joie de constater qu’un de nos contemporains avait pris place d’emblee parmi les grands maitres de la tradition europeenne.
They said not a word too much.
TRADITION & MOVEMENTS
Much to its embarrassment, the National Gallery finds itself possessed of that superb picture _Les Parapluies_; and as the director at last feels obliged to exhume those masterpieces which, for so many happy months, he and his colleagues have had, albeit in the dark, to themselves, we can now see Renoir amongst his peers. He is perfectly at home there. Renoir takes his place quite simply in the great tradition; and when Cezanne, who is still too cheap to be within the reach of a national collection, has attained a price that guarantees respectability he, too, will be seen to fit neatly into that tradition of which he is as much a part as Ingres or Poussin, Raphael or Piero della Francesca.
That Cezanne was a master, just as Poussin and Piero were, and that he, like them, is part of the tradition, is what all sensitive people know and the wiser keep to themselves. For by stating the plain fact that Renoir, Cezanne, and, for that matter, Matisse are all in the great tradition of painting one seems to suggest that the tradition is something altogether different from what most people would wish it to be. If one is right it follows that it is not simply the counter-movement to the contemporary movement; indeed, it follows that it is not a movement at all. This is intolerable. An artist, seen as the protagonist of a movement, the exponent of a theory, and the clue to an age, has a certain interest for all active-minded people; whereas, seen merely as an artist, which is how he must be seen if he is to be seen in the tradition, he is of interest only to those who care for art. The significant characteristics of an artist, considered as the representative of a movement, are those in which he differs most from other artists; set him in the traditions and his one important characteristic is the one he shares with all–his being an artist. In the tradition a work of art loses its value as a means. We must contemplate it as an end–as a direct means to aesthetic emotion rather–or let it be. Tradition, in fact, has to do with art alone; while with movements can be mixed up history, archaeology, philosophy, politics, geography, fashions, religion, and crime. So, by insisting on the fact that Matisse, Cezanne, Poussin, Piero, and Giotto are all in the tradition we insist on the fact that they are all artists. We rob them of their amusing but adscititious qualities; we make them utterly uninteresting to precisely 99.99 per cent. of our fellow-creatures; and ourselves we make unpopular.
The tradition of art begins with the first artist that ever lived, and will end with the last. Always it is being enriched or modified–never is it exhausted. The earliest artists are driven to creation by an irresistible desire to express themselves. Their over-bubbling minds supply abundance of matter; difficulties begin when they try to express it. Then it is they find themselves confronted by those terrible limitations of the human mind, and by other limitations, only less terrible, imposed by the medium in which they work. Every genuine artist–every artist, that is, with something of his own to say–is faced afresh by the problem, and must solve it for himself. Nevertheless, each one who succeeds in creating an appropriate form for his peculiar experience leaves in that form a record, and from the sum of these records is deduced something, less definite far than a code, by no means a pattern or recipe, which is yet a sign and a source of half-conscious suggestion to those that follow. No artist can escape the tradition of art except by refusing to grapple with the problem; which is how most do escape it. The academic humbug uses the old language to say nothing, the bombastic charlatan devises a new one for the same purpose; but once a man has something to express, and the passion to express it, he will find himself attacking the eternal problem and leaning on the inevitable tradition. Let anyone who doubts this mention quickly the name of some artist who owes nothing to his predecessors.
Often, however, owing either to some change in circumstances or to his innate peculiarity, a man of uncommon force and imagination will find himself with something to say for which the traditional instrument is, or at first seems to be, inadequate. What shall he do? Why, what Giotto did, what Masaccio did, what Ronsard and the poets of the Pleiade did, what Wordsworth did, and what Cezanne has done. All these great artists struck new veins, and to work them were obliged to overhaul the tool-chest. Of the traditional instruments some they reshaped and resharpened, some they twisted out of recognition, a few they discarded, many they retained. Above all, they travelled back along the tradition, tapping it and drawing inspiration from it, nearer to its source. Very rarely does the pioneer himself work out his seam: he leaves it to successors along with his technical discoveries. These they develop, themselves making experiments as they go forward, till of the heritage to which they succeeded they have left nothing–nothing but a fashion to be flouted by the next great original genius who shall rise. Such is the shape of a movement. A master, whose sole business it is to express himself, founds it incidentally, just as incidentally he enriches the tradition from which he borrows; successors exploit it; pious great-grand-nephews mummify and adore it. Movements are nothing but the stuff of which tradition is made. At any given moment tradition ends in the contemporary movement; the capital works of any age are almost sure to be capital examples of that movement; but a hundred years later, when these are clear-set in the tradition, the movement will have become dust and ashes–the daily bread of historians and archaeologists.
Though lecturers still hold up the Renaissance as an example of the happy and stagnant state of the arts in a golden age when rebels were unknown, their pupils are aware that Giotto, the father of Renaissance painting, broke with the _maniera greca_ at least as sharply as Cezanne did with the nineteenth-century convention; that in the art of the fifteenth century we have a revolt against Giottesque which must grievously have wounded many pious souls; and that Raphael himself stood, in his day, for a new movement. But distance gives a sense of proportion. We see the art of the Italian Renaissance whole, growing out of Byzantine and into French. The continuity is patent; and, what is much to my purpose, it is Giotto and his successors rather than the artists of the Palaeologie who seem to us to carry on the Byzantine tradition, while the heirs of the Renaissance are not Salvator Rosa and Carlo Dolci, but Claude and Poussin. The great artists stand out and join hands: the contests that clashed around them, the little men that aped them, the littler that abused, have fallen into one ruin. The odd thing is that, as often as not, the big men themselves have believed that it was the tradition, and not the stupid insensibility of their fellows, that thwarted them. They have made the mistake their enemies made infallibly: they have taken a dead movement for a live tradition. For movements die; that is one of the respects in which they differ most significantly from the tradition. The movement is a vein which is worked out; the tradition a live thing that changes, grows, and persists. The artist with a new vision comes on the tradition at its near end, and finds its implements lying in a heap mixed with the fashions of the moribund movement. He chooses; he changes; what happens next will depend a good deal on the state of public opinion. Should the artist have the luck to be born in a sensitive age and an intelligent country his innovations may be accepted without undue hubbub. In that case he will realize that artists can no more dispense with the tradition than tradition can exist without artists, and will probably come to feel an almost exaggerated reverence for the monuments of the past. But should the public be dull and brutish, and hardening the dust of dead movements into what it is pleased to call “tradition,” pelt with that word the thing which above all others is to dull brutes disquieting–I mean passionate conviction–the artist, finding himself assailed in the name of tradition, will probably reply, “Damn the tradition.” He will protest. And, for an artist, to become a protestant is even worse than using bad language.
Only in France, so far as I know, are the men who are working out the heritage of Cezanne allowed to be artists and expected to be nothing more. Elsewhere, the public by its uncritical attitude seems to encourage them to pose as supermen or to become rebels. Assuredly I am not advocating that slightly fatuous open-mindedness which led some Germans to seize on the movement before it was well grown and deal with it as they have dealt with so many others, collecting its artists as though they were beetles, bottling them, setting them, cataloguing them, making no mistake about them, and arranging them neatly in museums for the dust to settle on. Organized alertness of that sort is only less depressing than the smartness of those Italians who pounced so promptly on the journalistic possibilities of the movement as a means of self-advertisement. All I ask for in the public is a little more intelligence and sensibility, and a more critical attitude. Surely, by now, it should be impossible to hear what I heard only the other day–Mr. Charles Shannon being extolled, to humiliate some enterprising student, as a “traditional artist.” Why, it would be as sensible to call the man who makes nest-eggs a traditional Buff Orpington! And ought it still to be possible for a cultivated dealer, because I had refused to admire a stale old crust by some young New English painter, who, to be in the movement, had misshaped a few conventionally drawn objects and put black lines round others–for a dealer, I say, who dabbles in culture to exclaim indignantly, as one did to me not long ago, “I can’t think why you don’t like it: it’s Post-Impressionist, isn’t it?”
If we cannot lose this habit of calling artists names, at least let us know exactly what we mean by them. By associating artists with movements and counter-movements we encourage the superstition that in art there is some important distinction besides the distinction between good art and bad. There is not. Such distinctions as can be drawn between the genuine artists of one age and another, between traditional artists and eccentrics, though serviceable to historians and archaeologists, are pitfalls for critics and amateurs. To him who can help us better to appreciate works of art let us be duly grateful: to him who, from their extraneous qualities, can deduce amusing theories or pleasant fancies we will listen when we have time: but to him who would persuade us that their value can in any way depend on some non-aesthetic quality we must be positively rude. Now, if we are to get rid of those misleading labels from which works of art are supposed to derive a value over and above their aesthetic value, the first to go should be those arch-deceivers, “traditional” and “revolutionary.” Let us understand that tradition is nothing but the essence, congealed and preserved for us by the masters in their works, of innumerable movements; and that movements are mere phases of the tradition from which they spring and in which they are swallowed up. We shall then be armed, on the one hand, against the solemn bore who requires us to admire his imitation of an old master because it is in the tradition; on the other, against the portentous “Ist,” whose parthenogenetic masterpiece we are not in a state to relish till we have sucked down the pseudo-philosophic bolus that embodies his eponymous “Ism.” To each we shall make the same reply: “Be so good as to remove your irrelevant label and we will endeavour to judge your work on its merits.”
[Illustration: PICASSO (_Collection Paul Rosenberg_)]
The names go together, as do those of Shelley and Keats or Fortnum and Mason. Even to people who seldom or never look seriously at a picture they have stood, these ten years, as symbols of modernity. They are pre-eminent; and for this there is reason. Matisse and Picasso are the two immediate heirs to Cezanne. They are in the direct line; and through one of them a great part of the younger generation comes at its share of the patrimony. To their contemporaries they owe nothing: they came into the legacy and had to make what they could of it. They are the elder brothers of the movement, a fact which the movement occasionally resents by treating them as though they were its elder sisters.
Even to each other they owe nothing. Matisse, to be sure, swept for one moment out of his course by the overwhelming significance of Picasso’s early abstract work, himself made a move in that direction. But this adventure he quickly, and wisely, abandoned; the problems of Cubism could have helped him nothing to materialize his peculiar sensibility. And this sensibility–this peculiar emotional reaction to what he sees–is his great gift. No one ever felt for the visible universe just what Matisse feels; or, if one did, he could not create an equivalent. Because, in addition to this magic power of creation, Matisse has been blest with extraordinary sensibility both of reaction and touch, he is a great artist; because he trusts to it entirely he is not what for a moment apparently he wished to be–a _chef d’ecole_.
Picasso, on the other hand, who never tried to be anything of the sort, is the paramount influence in modern painting–subject, of course, to the supreme influence of Cezanne. All the world over are students and young painters to whom his mere name is thrilling; to whom Picasso is the liberator. His influence is ubiquitous: even in England it is immense. Not only those who, for all their denials–denials that spring rather from ignorance than bad faith–owe almost all they have to the inventor of Cubism, but artists who float so far out of the main stream as the Spensers and the Nashes, Mr. Lamb and Mr. John, would all have painted differently had Picasso never existed.
Picasso is a born _chef d’ecole_. His is one of the most inventive minds in Europe. Invention is as clearly his supreme gift as sensibility is that of Matisse. His career has been a series of discoveries, each of which he has rapidly developed. A highly original and extremely happy conception enters his head, suggested, probably, by some odd thing he has seen. Forthwith he sets himself to analyze it and disentangle those principles that account for its peculiar happiness. He proceeds by experiment, applying his hypothesis in the most unlikely places. The significant elements of negro sculpture are found to repeat their success in the drawing of a lemon. Before long he has established what looks like an infallible method for producing an effect of which, a few months earlier, no one had so much as dreamed. This is one reason why Picasso is a born _chef d’ecole_. And this is why of each new phase in his art the earlier examples are apt to be the more vital and well-nourished. At the end he is approaching that formula towards which his intellectual effort tends inevitably. It is time for a new discovery.
Meanwhile a pack of hungry followers has been eyeing the young master as he made clearer and ever clearer the nature of his last. To this pack he throws hint after hint. And still the wolves pursue. You see them in knots and clusters all along the road he has travelled, gnawing, tugging at some unpicked idea. Worry! worry! worry! Here is a crowd of old laggards still lingering and snuffling over “the blue period.” A vaster concourse is scattered about the spot where the nigger’s head fell, and of these the strongest have carried off scraps for themselves, which they assimilate at leisure, lying apart; while round the trunk of Cubism is a veritable sea of swaying, struggling, ravenous creatures. The howling is terrific. But Picasso himself is already far away elaborating an idea that came to him one day as he contemplated a drawing by Ingres.
And, besides being extraordinarily inventive, Picasso is what they call “an intellectual artist.” Those who suppose that an intellectual artist is one who spends his time on his head mistake. Milton and Mantegna were intellectual artists: it may be doubted whether Caravaggio and Rostand were artists at all. An intellectual artist is one who feels first–a peculiar state of emotion being the point of departure for all works of art–and goes on to think. Obviously Picasso has a passionate sense of the significance of form; also, he can stand away from his passion and consider it; apparently in this detached mood it is that he works. In art the motive power is heat always; some drive their engines by means of boiling emotion, others by the incandescence of intellectual passion. These go forward by intense concentration on the problem; those swing with breathless precision from feeling to feeling. Sophocles, Masaccio, and Bach are intellectuals in this sense, while Shakespeare, Correggio, and Mozart trust their sensibility almost as a bird trusts its instinct. It never entered the head of a swallow to criticize its own methods; and if Mozart could not write a tune wrong, that was not because he had first tested his idea at every point, but because he was Mozart. Yet no one ever thought of going to a swallow for lessons in aviation; or, rather, Daedalus did, and we all know what came of it.
That is my point. I do not presume to judge between one method of creation and another; I shall not judge between Matisse and Picasso; but I do say that, as a rule, it is the intellectual artist who becomes, in spite of himself, schoolmaster to the rest. And there is a reason for this. By expressing themselves intellectual artists appeal to us aesthetically; but, in addition, by making, or seeming to make, some statement about the nature of the artistic problem they set us thinking. We feel sure they have something to say about the very stuff of art which we, clumsily enough, can grasp intellectually. With purely aesthetic qualities the intellect can do nothing: but here, it seems, is something the brain can get hold of. Therefore we study them and they become our leaders; which does not make them our greatest artists. Matisse may yet be a better painter than Picasso.
Be that as it may, from Matisse there is little or nothing to be learned, since Matisse relies on his peculiar sensibility to bring him through. If you want to paint like him, feel what he feels, conduct it to the tips of your fingers, thence on to your canvas, and there you are. The counsel is not encouraging. These airy creatures try us too high. Indeed, it sometimes strikes me that even to appreciate them you must have a touch of their sensibility. A critic who is apt to be sensible was complaining the other day that Matisse had only one instrument in his orchestra. There are orchestras in which fifty instruments sound as one. Only it takes a musician to appreciate them. Also, one hears the others talking about “the pretty, tinkley stuff” of Mozart. Those who call the art of Matisse slight must either be insensitive or know little of it. Certainly Matisse is capable of recording, with an exquisite gesture and not much more, just the smell of something that looked as though it would be good to eat. These are notes. Notes are often slight–I make the critics a present of that. Also of this: it takes a more intense effort of the creative imagination to leave out what Tchehov leaves out of his short stories than to say what Meredith put into his long ones.
In the Plutarchian method there was ever a snare, and I have come near treading in it. The difference between Matisse and Picasso is not to be stated in those sharp antitheses that every journalist loves. Nothing could be more obtuse than to represent one as all feeling and the other all thought. The art of Picasso, as a matter of fact, is perhaps more personal even than that of Matisse, just because his sensibility is perhaps even more curious. Look at a Cubist picture by him amongst other Cubists. Here, if anywhere, amongst these abstractions you would have supposed that there was small room for idiosyncrasy. Yet at M. Leonce Rosenberg’s gallery no amateur fails to spot the Picassos. His choice of colours, the appropriateness of his most astonishing audacities, the disconcerting yet delightful perfection of his taste, the unlooked-for yet positive beauty of his harmonies make Picasso one of the most personal artists alive.
And if Picasso is anything but a dry doctrinaire, Matisse is no singing bird with one little jet of spontaneous melody. I wish his sculpture were better known in England, for it disposes finely of the ridiculous notion that Matisse is a temperament without a head. Amongst his bronze and plaster figures you will find sometimes a series consisting of several versions of the same subject, in which the original superabundant conception has been reduced to bare essentials by a process which implies the severest intellectual effort. Nothing that Matisse has done gives a stronger sense of his genius, and, at the same time, makes one so sharply aware of a brilliant intelligence and of erudition even.
Amongst the hundred differences between Matisse and Picasso perhaps, after all, there is but one on which a critic can usefully insist. Even about that he can say little that is definite. Only, it does appear to be true that whereas Matisse is a pure artist, Picasso is an artist and something more–an involuntary preacher if you like. Neither, of course, falls into the habit of puffing out his pictures with literary stuff, though Picasso has, on occasions, allowed to filter into his art a, to me, most distasteful dash of sentimentality. That is not the point, however. The point is that whereas both create without commenting on life, Picasso, by some inexplicable quality in his statement, does unmistakably comment on art. That is why he, and not Matisse, is master of the modern movement.
THE PLACE OF ART IN ART CRITICISM
The knowing ones–those, I mean, who are always invited to music after tea, and often to supper after the ballet–seem now to agree that in art significant form is the thing. You are not to suppose that, in saying this, I am trying to make out that all these distinguished, or soon to be distinguished, people have been reading my book. On the contrary, I have the solidest grounds for believing that very few of them have done that; and those that have treat me no better than they treated Hegel. For, just as an Hegelian is not so much a follower of that philosopher as an expounder, one who has an interpretation of his own, and can tell you what Hegel would have said if Hegel had been endowed by The Absolute with the power of saying anything, so of those admirable people who agree, for the moment, that significant form is what matters, no two are quite agreed as to what significant form is.
Only as to what it is not is there complete unanimity; though there is a tendency to come together on one or two positive points. It is years since I met anyone, careful of his reputation, so bold as to deny that the literary and anecdotic content of a work of visual art, however charming and lively it might be, was mere surplusage. The significance