Art at the Exposition




Energetic Action Brings Together Representative Works from All the Leading Artists of the Day.

The Fine Arts department of the Trans-mississippi and International Exposition was early a matter of consideration to the executive committee and directors, who realized the importance of making it representative and creditable. Early in 1897 the executive committee of the exposition requested the Western Art association to make suggestions in regard to the organization of this department, which was done by the creation of the directors of the Western Art association as an advisory committee upon fine art subjects. This committee selected as its chairman Mr. Paul Charlton, and in consultation with the architects-in-chief, Messrs. Walker and Kimball, suggested the form of building to be used, and, after considerable research, several names for the position of superintendent of the Fine Arts bureau. Messrs. Eames and Young of St. Louis were chosen as architects of the building, and were asked to submit plans in accordance with its suggestions, and Mr. Armond H. Griffith, director of the Detroit Museum of Art, as superintendent of the Bureau of Fine Arts for the exposition. Messrs. Eames and Young submitted plans which are practically those upon which the building has been constructed, and its unusual beauty, dignity and adaptiveness prove their fitness for this commission. The appointment of Mr. Griffith was approved by the executive committee, and he entered upon his duties in August, 1897.

Director Griffith first made a tour of the principal cities, where he saw artists, private collectors and the directors of the principal museums, and endeavored to interest them in this exhibit. This was followed by much persistent work by Mr. Griffith and the chairman of the advisory committee in the way of personal visits and extended correspondence. There was found to be the greatest apathy among artists and private collectors in the east in regard to any exhibit of fine arts in the west, the claim being that it was not profitable to them to send their pictures, as they were withdrawn either from their walls or from the eastern opportunity for sale for the period of some months and that their experience in the matter of handling and return had hitherto been extremely unsatisfactory. The directors of the museums were found to be personally willing to do anything to aid the project, but in many cases were prevented by the rules of their institutions from making loans. While this was proceeding correspondence was also begun with Messrs. Jules Rolshoven in London, Dr. De Groot in Holland and Frederick Mayer in Paris, with more encouraging promise.

Systematic Campaign.

Personal letters and personal interviews were followed continuously, supplemented by several circulars, and finally by application blanks in the early months of 1898. Responses to the latter were tardy, as artists were unwilling to make engagements for pictures which might thus be withdrawn from the spring exhibitions. This objection was met by an arrangement under which pictures shows in New York and Boston up to the middle of May will be hurried forward in time for the opening of the exposition. During the last six weeks entries began to come in freely, and something over 700 pictures were offered. The majority of these were passed upon by juries in the larger cities, but many have been sent direct by artists and owners to be judged in Omaha. Offerings from American, French and German artists resident in Paris were representative and in number far beyond what was desired, necessitating a limiting of the number. The dealers in the United States have been most generous in their loans, and it has thereby become possible to secure many representative pictures which would have been otherwise unavailable. A great majority of the pictures have been in storage in Omaha for many weeks, but owing to repeated delays in the construction of the building it was impossible to begin to unpack them until Monday, May 16, 1898, when three rooms in one gallery were opened. The work has progressed rapidly, day and night. The pictures entered were by the owners sent to authorized packers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Detroit and Chicago from territory tributary to those cities; the foreign pictures were collected by the commissioners for the various countries. Pictures accepted in the hands of packers are insured, trans-ported and returned free of cost to the sender; and pictures sent individually, if accepted, are treated in the same way, and if not, are held at owner's expense.

The walls of the main galleries up to the cornices are of dull red; the lobbies are cool, dull green, the latter for the purpose of showing black and white and other drawings. The domes are most imposing, the panels being treated in green, yellow and gilt; all the interior architectural members are a warm ivory, and the galleries are successively hung, proves the success of the building and the scheme of lighting and decoration to be more beautiful and fit than anything hitherto seen in this country. The grouping of pictures on the walls is accentuated by torches of ivory and gold, which add a decorative scheme, replacing draperies, which were not permissible. The offerings of statuary are quite considerable, and will be placed upon pedestals in the center of the galleries, and about the walls these are supplemented by full sized casts from the most celebrated ancient sculpture. Between the twin buildings is a peristyle surrounding a Pompeiian garden, in the center of which is a fountain with a simple spray.

High Character of Exhibit.

The extremely high class of this exhibit from an artistic standpoint and its entirely representative character will make it a surprise to persons who have been led to expect the usual conglomeration customarily seen at exhibitions in this country. Among the 600 pictures to be shown in these two buildings are many by the greatest artists of the various periods and schools. It would be invidious to mention names, but there are good examples of Corot, Troyon, Van Marke, Pourbus, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Titian, a Van Dyke, and examples of most of the living artists of eminence, impossible now to particularize. The aim has been to have a small and representative exhibit of good examples of the best painters only, and it has succeeded beyond the most sanguine hopes of those who have had the matter in charge.

These buildings are sure to be the gathering place and center for the large number of persons who are becoming interested in such subjects, and will prove the most potent educational feature of the exposition.

There will also be shown modern examples of reproductions of famous master-pieces, the originals of which are entirely unavailable for exhibition purposes, and the room where these are shown will be a point of interest to persons who have not had the opportunity of visiting the foreign galleries, and who yet desire to know some-thing of the manner in which the historic pictures, which one reads of constantly, were printed. The catalogues will be complete in biographical detail of the artists represented, and will contain about forty half-tone reproductions of pictures suitable for such process. These will form an in-dispensable guide to an intelligent understanding of the pictures, and a valued souvenir of what promises to be one of the distinctive and progressive features of the exposition.