Art at the Exposition
- Publication: Omaha Daily Bee
- Date: 13 September 1898
- Author(s): Ethel Evans
- Publication Place: Omaha, NE
- Pages: 4
- TEI XML: transmiss.news.odb.18980913.xml
ART AT THE EXPOSITION
Tolstoi has written a new book on the subject of art, in which he upholds the idea that true art should, and does, appeal to the masses. It will certainly be an interesting book to read, for Tolstoi's point of view is always interesting even when one does not agree with him. But if he advances the theory that the appreciation of a good picture is the inheritance of all people—then the recognition of a poor picture must be quite as natural. If that is the case "why do the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things" about the picture on the Midway inaptly called "Trilby?" One is obliged to reply to that in the words of the prophet of old, "they have eyes but they see not," and not even the music of the spheres could touch the ear of a deaf man, and for the blind, the beauty of the Sistine Madonna would be no more than ugliness.
Very few people have any exact knowledge of form, but only casual and vague impressions. For if they "see" with understanding, they would know that when the weight of the body rests on one foot that foot spreads out and appears to be bearing a burden. Look at Trilby's feet, they are poorly drawn, much too small and seem to be dragging in air rather than upholding 138 pounds. She rests, or is supposed to rest, on her right foot, therefore the right hip should be higher than the left one; it can't be otherwise in life unless her left leg was several inches longer than the right one, which must have been the case with this model as her two hips are opposite one another—and yet the oracle tells us that all artists and doctors agree that it is the most wonderful anatomical picture ever painted! I think a surgeon would say she ought to be sent to the hospital and I am sure an artist would. Not that one expects perfection of drawing, only no deformities. The oracle tells us also, with the same enthusiasm and tone of voice with which he formerly recited the multiplication tables, that her measurements agree in every paticular with the Venus de Milo! Look at that nineteenth century waist and at that short, coarse, thick neck and then recall the beautiful lines and perfect proportions of the Venus de Milo!
The face is painted according to the colored calendar type of beauty; eyes much too large, mouth too red, nose very straight and not quite in drawing—in fact, the face is banal and lacks all charms of nature and all beauty of truth of character. And yet one hears on every side the discriminating adjectives of "grand" and "fine" and "perfectly lovely" applied to it. What idea or thought, or fancy or emotion does she express? If the conception were great we would excuse the poor expression—the drawing, the modeling, the coloring—but the idea is so deadly commonplace that it needs some technical skill to give it reason for being, and that one seeks for in vain. The color is raw and unrefined. A photograph colored by receipt would be quite as interesting and have the advantage of being in drawing.
Mr. William M. Hunt said: "I might have painted had I lived in an atmosphere of art, but in America everything resolves itself into the getting of money and selling a poor article instead of a good one." This is verified in the case of Trilby, if it is true that the painter—Mr. Astley Cooper—received $25,000 for it. Who is Mr. Astley Cooper? He is not heard of at any of the exhibitions, he is unknown to artists, and yet we are informed that he has accomplished what artists have striven in vain for centuries to accomplish, and the people believe this oracle. One cannot but think of the nude figures of giant draughtsmen like Bourgereau, Gerome and Colin and sigh at the credulity of mankind.
I feel as if I should apologize for writing at such length of a picture which merits so little consideration, but I have heard it spoken of as quite a masterpiece, and it really does not belong in the higher walks of art at all. If those who like it will go again and study it carefully and then look at the fresh painting in the Fall of Babylon
or even in the dainty little nude—No. 86—in the Art building, they will be conscious of the difference. The main attraction about the picture is the classic entrance to the building in which it is placed, the clever way in which it is lighted and staged, and the fact that your attention is called to all the details, the roses, the cupids and the miniature on the jardiniere, each drooping leaf of the palm and the worn out velvet of the dais. (Poor Trilby in Paris, she never had a chance to pose on a carved model stand like this one, adorned with mother of pearl!) This imitative, ignoble style of painting belongs in the same category as the "Bachelor's Drawer"—No. 263.
Poor Du Maurier!
Henry James said he never fully recovered from the effects of the crushing notoriety given him by the appreciative American public. Trilby hats, Trilby ties, Trilby dramatized, was more than he could endure. But had he been able to pull through the tidal wave of popularity, I am sure this would have been his death blow! He who loved gentle satire and humor and art in its highest meaning, who not only created Trilby from the recollections of his Paris student days, but with his own pen gave us his ideal of the frank and fearless grisette, would indeed receive a blow if he could see this interpretation of his lovable, well formed Trilby.
There is a little picture in the southeast room of the Art building which has all the qualities that Trilby has not; each time you look at it you like it better and better; it appeals to you strangely, and finally you wish that you owned it. It is by an American—Mr. Sergeant Kendall, who was a pupil of Benjamin Constant. The subject—"Saint Yves, Pray for Us"—is simplicity itself; two Breton girls, one a child, the other on the threshhold of womanhood, are sitting on a stone seat at the foot of a white washed wall, to which a small image of the saint is attached. The young girl shrinks to the side of the elder—perhaps her sister—who looks up to the shrine with pathetic and innocent faith. There are no other accessories to distract the attention; you are alone with the two country girls and are conscious of your closeness to them and their emotion. There is a delicate truth of painting, a purity of color which vibrates, and a sincerity in the painter's work which arouses one's sympathies. Here there is no trick of lighting, or of imitation; it has higher qualities—the quality of truth seen and translated by a painter who has a keen vision and feels the sentiment of poetry, who was in sympathy with his subject and who knew how to express himself in the medium of paint. ETHEL EVANS.