Art at the Exposition


Art at the Exposition

The picture which attracts public attention more than any other at the exposition in point of size is No. 470—Charles the Bold entering the church at Nesle, by M. Roybet. Personally, I do not care for such immense canvases, for in the nature of the case a picture—to be pleasing as a picture—ought to be of such proportions as to come within the compass of the eye, otherwise it usurps the province of mural decoration and mural decoration is not treated in the same manner as a picture, but somewhat conventionally and must be painted as part and parcel of the monument which it decorates.

All the greatest masterpieces—with a few exceptions, as Veronese's sumptuous biblical scenes—have been of modest proportions.

With all the undeniable power of Roybet and his boldness of treatment, in spite of a certain dramatic element, qualities which place him in the list of the great modern painters, I do not feel that his work entities him to a place among the greatest, because he lacks tenderness and spiritual pathos, which is inseparable from the consurnmate artist's greatness. Certainly so far as mastery of his material, in every sense of that word, power of drawing, and knowledge of the human figure go, he is one of the first of today. He has a certain technical instinct and is a perfect master of the trade of painting.

The French masters say that it takes ten years to learn the trade of painting, after that one must learn to be an artist—and that generally takes a life time. But there are many who never learn the trade, whose conception is far beyond their means of expression. Roybet is not one of these, he is ever sure of his drawing and of his brush work. He has always been greatly influenced by the Spanish masters. Formerly he painted cavaliers of the seventeenth century and reveled in the rich hues of old costumes. This picture with another of his called "The Gallant Proposal," received the medal of honor at the salon of the Champs-Elysees in 1893, although at the time of the composition, especially of the figures hurled from above, was severely criticised.

The subject of the picture is very revoltiug. The moment chosen is the entry of Charles the Bold and his army into the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Nesle. He with his standard-bearers in full armor of the fifteenth century are on horseback at the left of the picture, while on every side his army is massacring men, women and children and throwing them down from the trifold above. In front lie a heap of the dead on their shields, a priest in a wonderfully painted gown of green embroidered with gold lies dead, while in front of him the wafer box has fallen, emptying its contents on the floor. Above this group, in front of the brass railing which separates the choir from the nave, stand two warriors, one in a mantle or cloak of red and yellow, exceedingly well painted. The other is in shining armor, equally well done and his leg, corning out into the light in black hose, is marvelously drawn and painted, the muscles suggested but not overworked. Near his feet is thee, demoniacal face of a man who in his death throes rejoices in the death he is about to inflict on his enemy with his dagger. In the 1 center of the foreground, in the strongest light of the picture, is the kneeling figure of a woman in a yellow plush gown, which has been torn from her arm and shoulder. Here the painter has carefully shown the difference between the texture of the skin and of fabrics. The shoulder and back are carefully modeled and good in color, done with no trace of effort. Nothing could be more infantine and like flesh than the little unconscious, innocent baby tucked tinder its mother's arm as she vainly seeks an opening for escape. In the whole, the confusion of an agitated crowd is well depicted.

The main light is from above, toward the left and kept in the center of the picture. The upper part of the picture is beautiful. The cross lights of pink on the upper right arches and bluish light on the pillar of stone at the very left of the picture, with the light coming in from the blue stained glass windows back of the altar and the warm gray light floating in the lofty space above, give one a very realistic impression of the dim cathedral light. It is a really fine rendering of the interior of a cathedral in all the splendor of its thirteenth century Gothic, at once solid and inspiring. He had suggested the Gothic detail without making the architectural feature of his composition intrude too far upon the spectator.

The picture as a whole is not so pleasing. It gives one the impression that the upper part was really painted in a cathedral. while the figures below were painted in the strong studio light with its sharp lights and dark shadows. The shadows are too black and opaque. Like Munkacsy, he uses bitumen everywhere and every year it will turn darker and blacker. It looks as if he had painted each figure first in bitumen (a transparent brown) and before it dried he had painted the other colors, into it.

Roybet is a great painter of still life, of textures, an excellent draughtsman and a brilliant colorist, when one forgets his bituminous shadows. The painting of such a picture entails a great deal of bother and research. One must have coats of mail of different sorts used in the Fifteenth century, each model must have his or her costume of the color which will be harmonious with the whole, and which shall be in the style of that time and made of the required material. The artist must know the style of the trappings for the horses, the weapons used and the dress of the religious orders. Even though he is not bent on archaeological accuracy, in a historical picture he must suggest the time in which it is painted by a certain accuracy of detail. ETHEL EVANS.