Art at the Exposition



The other evening at the Auditorium two strangers were commenting upon the uninteresting and commonplace appearance of the audience. Every one has experienced that same feeling in looking at a strange crowd of people. It is due to this superficial impression that so many European travelers judge a city, or perhaps a nation. It is not fair. En masse people are a mob; individually, they may be charming. So, a hurried walk through the Fine Arts building gives was the impression that collectively the pictures are a disappointment. It is the strange crowd, and we must go again and again to select from this mass our friends; or, better still, let them choose us. Naturally we each choose friends who are congenial and with pictures our choice is not apt to be above our station. We must remember that our liking or disliking a picture is not only a test of the picture but it is a test of us as well. Readers who find "The Old Oaken Bucket" thrillingly sweet are hardly expected to be equal to Browning. People who rave over the boy with the pinks by J. G. Brown will hardly stop to look at the harmony of the woman in yellow by J. W. Alexander.

It is just as difficult to lay down rules by which a person may judge of a picture as it is in literature to give rules for testing the merits of a book. In the first place there are so many different points of view. One may depict a nature in a broad, decorative way as does Pavis de Chavannes (No. 135), or in an impressionistic manner as Pessaro and Tuxen have done in Nos. 419 and 531. The former dissects his color and puts it on the canvas in spots of pure color, as do the pointellists, hoping thus to secure the vibration of light, and if you stand at a distance from the picture, of course your eye joins the colors together into a tone. Others work for simplicity and tone, as J. W. Alexander, or for dramatic effect, which M. Roybet has produced on his huge canvas. No matter what the point of view, every artist should paint with sentiment—not sentimentality and paint with conviction, to convince. Many people think that if a picture tells a story it has fulfilled its mission.

"Breaking Home Ties" at the World's fair and the "Wordless Farewell"—No. 329—are examples of pictures which tell a story, yet are so entirely lacking in other respects that they can never be called good pictures. People are not critical of the commonplace so long as it appeals to a certain sentiment within them. Crowds gather around the "Wordless Farewell" and sympathize with the dog baying at his master's grave on the western plains and are quite moved by the expression of the two men's faces, which are hard and wooden. There is no atmosphere at all between them and the spectator, and the sky gives one no idea of light issuing from it. The drawing is poor—so it is the story only which appeals to the untutored eye.

A good picture is not apt to appeal to the uninitiated any more than does good literature or good music. It is to be regretted that in the west many who do know how to judge of books and music care nothing for pictures and some of them feel like Carlyle, rather proud of the distinction. At a dinner of the Royal academy in London, Thackeray and Carlyle were guests, and at the table the talk among the artists around them turned upon Titian. "One fact about Titian," a painter said, "is his glorious coloring." And his glorious drawing is another fact about Titian," put in a second. Then one added one word of praise and another another until Carlyle interrupted them, to say with deliberate emphasis: "And here sit I, a man made in the image of God, who knows nothing about Titian, and who cares nothing about Titian—and that's another fact about Titian." But Thackeray, who sat silently listening, paused and bowed gravely to his fellow guest: "Pardon me," he said, "that is not a fact about Titian. It is a fact—and a very lamentable fact-about Thomas Carlyle."

People who know nothing of what difficulties the modern artist is attempting in his endeavor to paint light—sunshine—a certain hour of the day—walk into the northeast room of the Art building and say: "Well, what" does it all mean?" "Whoever saw anything in nature which looked like that?" But stand back in front of that picture by W. R. Leigh—No. 345. Look at it through a paper rolled up into a telescope and it is beautiful. It looks as if it might have been painted out of Philadelphia—up the Wissahicken. The light shimmers through the foliage and glitters on the rocks. The eye penetrates far into the depth of the tangled wood and yet see how simply the distance is painted. In the foreground are rocks covered with green moss. One feels that they are rocks and not more spots of paint. The tree trunks are of bark and the wind might rustle the leaves and foliage. To thus preserve the texture of each different material is not a mere matter of accident.

It is full of life—the life of nature. It is full of atmosphere—the atmosphere of the woods. It looks as if it had been done at one sitting, in one light, so well does it hang together. Those of you who have never seen Nature look like that must surely wish you could.

Mr. Leigh has painted not merely a forest, but a particular forest in light. To paint light is not a thing apart; it is that which results from painting perfect values.