Concerning The French Masterpieces At The Academy Of Design

Taking The World artist with me in order to know fully what I was talking about, I visited the Academy of Design a day or two ago for the purpose of witnessing some of the pictures from Paris which are now on exhibition there.

Many of these pictures are large and beautiful, while others are small and ornery. At the head of the stairs is a smallish picture, with a good, heavy frame and greenish foreground. It is not on the catalogue, so I will try to describe it briefly. About half way between the foreground and middle distance there is a cream-colored perspective, while above this there is a rag-carpet sky, with lumps on it.

“And is there no way of removing these large lumps of paint, so as to give the picture an even appearance?” I asked Mr. McDougall.

“Oh, no; they don’t want to do that,” he said; “that is the impasto method of putting on the colors, which brings out the salient features of the painting.”

So this imposture method, it seems, is really gaining ground, and this picture, with the soldier-overcoat sky and green chenille grass and gargetty distance, would no doubt be worth in Paris thirteen or fourteen dollars.

No. 84 is a picture by Charles Durand, entitled “A Country Woman in Champagne.” I was bitterly disappointed in this picture, for though the woman seems to be in good spirits the artist has utterly failed to grapple fully with his subject, and without the catalogue in his hand I would defy the most brilliant connoisseur to say definitely whether or not she is under the influence of liquor.

We next walk around to No. 168, a picture by Camille Pissaro.

M. Pissaro has ten pictures in the Academy, but this one is the best. It is made by the squirt system of painting, graining and kalsomining, which is now becoming so a la mode and rouge et noir. The artist tells me that the colors are carefully arranged in a tin pail and applied to the canvas by means of a squirt gun or Rembrandt stomach pump. This gives the painting a beautiful yet dappled appearance, which could not be obtained with a brush.

This picture is worth three dollars of any man’s money for the frame is worth two dollars, and there is at least a dollar’s worth of paint on the picture that is just as good as ever. The artist has handled the feet in a masterly manner, bringing them out so that they hang over the frame like a thing of life. If I could paint feet as M. Pissaro does I would not spend my life striping buggies in a close room among coarse men with putty on their pantaloons, but I would burst forth from my humble surroundings, and I would attract the attention of the whole great world of art with my massive and heroic feet. Then from this I would gradually get so that I could make pictures that would resemble people. There is no reason why M. Pissaro should not do well in that way, for he has painted No. 171, “A woman at a Well,” in which the most unkempt and uncultivated peasant can at once distinguish which is the woman and which is the well. He is also the author of “Spring,” a squirt study with a blue rash, which has broken out where the sky ought to be.

No. 136 is the “Execution of Maximilian,” by Edouard Manet, a foreign artist. The scene is laid at the base of an old Mexican slaughter-house. In the foreground may be seen the rear of the Mexican army with its wealth of tournure and cute little gored panties. All Mexican troops have their trousers gored at the hips. Sometimes they also have them gored at the bull-fights which take place there. In the contiguous distance Maximilian maybe seen, wearing the hat which has evidently infuriated the Mexican populace. The artist says that Maximilian objects to being shot, but I pretend not to hear him, and he repeats the remark, so I have to say “Very good, very good,” and then we pass on to No. 60, which is entitled “Dreams,” by Prévis de Chavannes.

In this picture a weary man, who has worn himself out sleeping in haystacks and trying to solve the labor problem, so that the great curse of industry may be wiped out and the wealthy man made to pay the taxes while the poor man assists in sharing the burden of dividends, is lying on the ground with a pleasant smile on his face. He is asleep, with his mouth slightly ajar, showing how his teeth are fastened in their places. He is smiling in his slumber, and there is hay in his whiskers. Three decalcomanie angels are seen fastened to the sky in the form of a tableau. One is scattering cookies in his pathway, while the second has a laurel wreath which is offered at a great reduction, as the owner is about to leave the city for the summer. These are the new style of wingless angels recently introduced into art and now becoming very popular.

M. Chavannes is also the mechanic who constructed a picture numbered 61 and called the “Poor Fisherman.” The history of this little picture is full of pathos. The scene is laid in Newark Bay, N. J. A poor fisherman and his children go out to spend the day, taking their lunch with them.

“O papa, let us take two or three cucumbers with our lunch,” says one of the children, in glee.

“Very well, my child,” exclaims the father, with ill-concealed delight, “Go down to the market and get one for each of us.”

The artist has chosen to make his study of the fisherman a short time after lunch. The father is engaged in regretting something which it is now too late to recall. Cholera infantum has overtaken the younger child and the other is gathering lobelia for her father. The picture is wonderful in its conception ana execution. One can see that he is a poor fisherman, for he has not caught any fish, and the great agony he feels is depicted in his face and the altitude of his hair. The picture might have been called a battle piece or a French interior, with equal propriety.

Manet has several bright and cheery bits of color, among them No. 147, “Spring at Giverny,” which might be called Fourth of July in a Roman candle factory without misleading the thoughtful art-student.

No. 150, “Meadows at Giverny,” by the same man, is a study in connecting the foreground and background of an oil painting by means of purple hay and dark-blue bunches of boneset in such a way as to deceive the eye.

I have always bitterly regretted that while I was abroad I did not go to Giverny and see the purple hay and navy-blue tansy and water cress which grow there in such great abundance. How often we go hurrying through a country, seeing the old and well-worn features shown us by the professional guides and tourists, forgetting or overlooking more important matters, like a scene in France, No. 142, entitled “Women Bathing.” I presume I was within three-quarters of a mile of this view and yet came home without knowing anything about it.

No. 123, “Diana Surprised,” is no doubt the best picture in the whole collection. The tall and beautiful figure of Diana in the middle distance in the act of being surprised, is well calculated to appeal to any one with a tender heart or a few extra clothes. Diana has just been in swimming with her entire corps de ballet, and on coming out of the water is surprised to find that someone has stolen her clothes. The artist has very happily caught the attitude and expression at the moment when she is about to offer a reward for them. The picture is so true to life that I instinctively stammered “Excuse me,” and got behind the artist who was with me. The figures are life size and the attitudes are easy and graceful in the extreme. One very beautiful young woman in the middle foreground, about seven and one-half inches north of the frame of the picture, with her back to the spectator, crouches at Diana’s feet. She has done her beautiful and abundant hair up in a graceful coil at the back of her head, but has gone no further with her toilet when the surprise takes place. The idea is lofty and the treatment beneficial. I do not know that I am using these terms as I should, but I am doing the best I can.

We often hear our friends regret that their portraits, dressed in clothing that has long since become obsolete, are still in existence, and though the features are correctly reproduced, the costume is now so ridiculous as to impair the de trop of the picture and mar its aplomb.

Jules Lefebvre has overcome this great obstacle in a marvelous manner, and gives us Diana and her entire staff surrounded by an atmosphere that time cannot cloud with contumely or obscure with ridicule. Had the artist seen fit to paint Diana wearing a Garibaldi waist and very full skirt with large hoops, and her hair wrapped around two or three large “rats,” he might have been true to the customs and costumes of a certain period in the history of art, but it would not have stood the test of time. As it is he has wisely chosen to throw about her a certain air of hauteur which will look just as well in a hundred years as it does now.

The picture has a massive frame and would brighten up one end of a dining-room very much. I was deeply mortified and disappointed to learn that it was not for sale. Actéon is the party who surprised Diana.


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