Art at the Exposition



The impressionist is a creature of evolution. The old masters sought to present their compositions full of life, strong in the contrast of light and shade, rich and beautiful in color, sentiment, and refinement, but paying no heed to suggesting a certain hour of the day, or the varing moods of nature. When a landscape was introduced it was only a conventional background, as in the Mona Lisa, or Raphael's Madonna of the Garden.

Claude Lorraine and Turner dignified the position of landscape by painting landscape for itself and not as an accessory to a group of figures. They departed from the traditions of centuries, and sometimes painted trees, earth and sky directly from nature, as their wonderful skies bear witness. But it is to Corot, Millet and the Barbizon school that we are indebted for a more intimate knowledge of painting light—nature seen in, and through a certain light. These were the early fathers who suffered for truth's sake, and they left behind them many disciples, who in their turn have other followers, and these are the modern impressionists. It would be no more just to blame the Barbizon school and Monet for all of the atrocities of modern impressionism than to condemn the early Christian fathers for all of the modern doctrines.

The impressionist strives to render a general impression of his subject at a given moment, and in a certain light. Figures in the garden with light from every side no longer are painted as if they were studio models. A green tree is green, or blue, or purple, according to the day, the hour, the atmosphere and the distance.

Some impressionists think to give the effect of nature and the vibration of light by painting in spots of pure color, so placed in juxtaposition that the eye of the spectator at a given distance will unite them into the tone desired. An example of this style of working is by Pissarro, No. 419—representing two women working in the field in the foreground; in the middle distance, against a spotty blue sky, are purple, blue and green spots of color, which our imagination translates into trees. A bridge—418—1 at Rouen by the same artist shows the same method. There is no difference in the technique of the water and of the stone paving of the quay; figures, sky, bridge, water, all have nearly the same texture.

A man of much influence in this school is Claude Monet, who has two very indifferent examples of his work here. One, a 1 poppy field—378—with poplar trees and blue hills against a purplish blue sky and pinkish clouds; the other—377—has water in the foreground, while on the opposite bank of the river is a hilly bank with suggestions of houses. The sky is well painted and is more luminous than the sky of his poppy field.

Sisley, of the same school, has but a small picture—474—painted in 1874. It is an after-noon effect with a road in the foreground, across which some large trees cast long shadows, with the turn of the river at the side, the trees against the sky. A careful comparison of these three artists shows great similarity in their way of interpreting nature. One may not find their mannerisms agreeable, because one likes to be pleased with a picture without the artist intruding upon us his mode of working. It is like being so near the stage as to be impressed by all of the artifices, and thus lose the semblance of reality.

A man who has painted very beautifully the last glow of the setting sun is Charles H. Davis—No. 156. The subject is an abandoned cottage on the New England coast. The sky is simple and luminous, and just the color that one sees when the yellow light is low in the west. The sunlight illumines the old cottage, and the bunches of weeds in the foreground, leaving the marsh grass near the water in shadow. From the foreground the flat earth seems to recede into the distance, where it is lost behind low trees. It is a difficult feat in painting to represent a long, flat stretch of earth so that the eye wanders naturally over it without having to jump from foreground to middle distance, and then to the distance. Monet's poppy field looks rather like a wall than a flat meadow of poppies. Yet there is nothing small in the manner that Mr. Davis has painted. If one examines closely one discovers that the bunch of grass in sunlight is but a simple stroke of the brush; it has been so well studied it needs no more.

Mr. Childe Hassam uses the impressionistic method in noting the movement of crowds and the fleeting atmospheric effects of our cities. He and Robert Reid, with eight other men, have recently seceded from the Society of American Artists and formed a new association called the American Painters, where they feel they will be more untrammeled, and can follow out their own impressionistic inclinations without having to conform to certain exhibition standards.

He has sent one large picture called Autumn—257. It is an early evening in a city and the sky is thick with the smoke of the day and the haze of autumn. The street and pavement are carpeted with great yellow leaves, which an old woman is sweeping up to fill her wheelbarrow. The perspective of the street, of the rows of trees, of the people hurrying along the street, has been excellently preserved, both in drawing and color. The textures are well studied. There is a difference in the pavement and the street, the leaves do not look like stones and the people do not look like trees. The whole is enveloped in the warm, pink light of evening; in the distance the street lamps have been lighted; each figure as it approaches the foreground is stronger in value, and worked out more carefully in detail up to the old minstrel in front with his harp on his back—the autumn of life. He is the most disappointing feature of the whole composition. His face is hard and wooden and the whole figure seems lacking the sentiment in which the rest of the picture abounds. At the World's fair, at the end of the main hall of the Woman's building, was a large semi-circular painting by Mary Cassatt. It represented an orchard with young girls picking fruit. Women, and especially children, are the favorite subjects of this artist. Miss Cassatt studied first in the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia before studying in Italy, Spain and Holland, and finally in France. In Paris she fell under the influence of Manet, Monet and Degas, and her pictures show the influence of these men—more especially Manet. Her painting is broad and free and gives one the impression that it is careless. She does net care for prettiness and goes in for tone and harmony. In the example of her work that she sent here—132—she has worked for a harmony of green, gray and lilac. The woman's dress is lilac and green—the background of the same colors is suggested in a Japanese manner. Even the bowl and pitcher are gray and lilac color, while the child in her lap carries out the same tones; face, arms and legs are lilac, while the body is green. ETHEL EVANS.