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The Antecedents of American Art.
Room No. 91.
I take it for granted that before you turn to this little guide you have wandered in and about the Palace of Art, absorbing the romantic and elegaic beauty of its exterior setting, becoming familiar with the outdoor installation of the statuary - a uniquely attractive idea - and visiting in a general way many of the galleries devoted to famous painters, together with other rooms. But in order to follow an orderly and. I think, a logical plan, let us now enter the main entrance, and go straight to Room No. 91 (consult the plan of the building, page - ).
Room No. 91 is the center of a little group of rooms which contain typical examples of certain factors of prime importance connected with the beginning of American art.
Of course, back again of these examples lies the tremendous earlier history of art, but it is obvious that the task of exhibiting its entire development would require a dozen great buildings at least - and several dozen books. Not the pre-American period as a whole, therefore, but simply a few chapters from the history of that vast period - this is all that is required in order to begin the exposition of the American branch of universal art, and to link it on to the vaster body from which it springs.
Room No. 91, then, contains a number of Old Masters - works by Italian painters predominating.
In the center of Wall A (remember that all the rooms contain a sign giving its number, and that each wall is marked with a letter, A, B, C, or D) hangs a fresco painting, a winged and kneeling angel, by Bernardo Luini. It is exquisitely beautiful. Let us believe firmly in the progress of art; but do not let us forget that it is a progress in technic, in method, rather than in beauty. All the ages are equal, affirmed William Blake; but genius is above the ages.
This Luini fresco is perhaps the best starting place for the student. It is executed in a method that had its origin in early Egypt, and was universally employed by painters before the use of oils was popularized by the brothers Van Eyck. This method is "tempera" - done with pigments mixed with white of egg. Before the Van Eycks, oil colors were only used to give superficial lustre to carefully executed paintings in tempera. Although the Van Eyck brothers, Jan and Hnbert (who lived from about 1380 to 1440), are commonly called the inventors of oil painting, Reinach says that Valesquez was the first artist to employ oils exclusively. Luini was a pupil of the great initiator, Leonardo (whose masterpiece is the famous Monna Lisa), and though not nearly so great as his master, he sometimes did great things. His masterpieces are his frescoes in the church at Saranno. He thrived about the year 1483, at Milan, where Leonardo brought the fecund force of his many-sided genius, and formed many disciples.
Above the exquisite Luini hangs a Madonna by Timoteo Viti, who about 1490 was the pupil of Francia, a formative influence in Italian art who derived from the Venetian school and set up his own workshop (he was goldsmith as well as painter) at Bologna. Leaving Francia, Viti went to live at Urbino. Not great in himself, it was his great destiny to teach and develop a transcendent genius, no less a one than the glorious Raphael, who was his pupil for the first five years of his most impressionable period.
Next to the Viti hangs a noble work by Jocopo Tintoretto, the head of a Venetian Senator. Tintoretto (born 1518, died 1594), has been called the Michael Angelo of Venice. Together with Veronese, he dominated the second epoch of the Renaissance in Venice, from which sprang one of the great schools of Italy. Fecund and impulsive, much of his grandiose and at times feverish work has lost its power, but some of it remains sealed with the stamp of genius. Titian was his artistic ancestor.
There are other notable paintings on this wall, but before speaking of these let us finish with the other Italian paintings. On Wall B are two typical examples of the Italian school, a "Holy Family," and "Noah and His Sons." They are unsigned. They recall the fact that the impress of Christianity was deeply stamped upon Italian painting, and, in fact, upon all other schools of painting until after the Renaissance. Many were the artists who, without native predilection for religious subjects, were yet compelled to paint them because their patrons and the public desired them. This explains the fact why so many of these pictures are feeble expressions of divine ideas but are exquisite representations of the things which really interested their painters - landscape, portraits of real persons, still life, rich brocades, and so forth. The two pictures on this wall, however, are sincere enough.
In the center of Wall C hangs the "Banquet of Dives," by Jacopo da Ponte or Il Bassano, another typical example of the dominant religious subject in early Italian art. This painter was prominent in the Venetian school, 1510-1592, and is given the honor of being one of the creators of modern landscape painting.
Near-by hang two examples of early Italian portrait painting (Nos. 4004 and 4005), by Baroccio, together with two others by O. P. Piazzetta (Nos. 2842 and 2843). The Madonna by Bonaventura di Segna completes the tale of notable Italian works in this room.
Returning to Wall A, there is found a name that recalls the glory of the early Flemish school. This is David Teniers, represented by "A Kitchen Scene." Teniers (1610-1690), was one of the great original masters of genre painting. Inspired by the tremendous genius of Rubens, the wineshop, the country fair, all the vivid spectacles of the peasant life of his own age, were rendered by him with brilliant observation and power. If the Italian painters, in the main, show us the origins of idealism, and of the spiritual in art, Teniers and his fellows exhibit the beginnings of realism and of art's interest in humanity's humble, daily concerns. Jan Steen's "The Drunken Woman" and Van Ostade's "Tavern Scene" are other examples of this sturdy and fertile school, the influence of which is today stronger in American art than that of the more idealistic school.
Two other great influences are indicated by examples shown in this room. There is, first, the Spanish school, illustrated by Riberas "St. Jerome's Last Prayer." Ribera, a native of Valencia (1588-1652), studied in Italy, and took back into Spain the methods and ideas which affected him and which ever since have remained vital in his country. His dominant note was that of an intensely realistic handling of his subjects, usually religions.
The last great name which this room calls attention to is that of Antoine Watteau, with his "The Competitors" (No. 4017). Wattean, who thrived in Paris from 1702-1721, calls attention to France and the dawn of the modern period. He was the great master of the eighteenth century school, the school of artificial graces. An exquisitely refined colorist, a true poet in paint, Watteau deeply affected the whole course of French art, and, therefore, our own, which derives so largely, so predominantly, perhaps, from France.
Room No. 63.
Stepping from Room 91 into Room 63 is to continue and enlarge a profitable acquaintance with the formative influences of our native painting, and to carry it directly to its beginning. It was the great Englishmen, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Raeburn and others whom we meet here who immediately inspired our first American artists - Copley, Stnart, West, Sully and the others.
But this room also contains examples of earlier masters than those of England. In the center of Wall A hangs a splendid altar piece by Tiepolo, "St. Domenico and the Saints." Tiepolo (1696-1770), a great Venetian master of the Renaissance, the favored painter of a polished aristocracy, and one of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation, is said to have been the last of the old painters and the first of the moderns. Reinach declares that nearly all the great decorators of the nineteenth century were inspired by him. He exerted a profound influence ever the great Spaniard, Goya, to whom the fresh vigor that animated French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century is ascribed by some authorities.
Two excellent examples of Goya's work hang on Wall A, both of them portraits (Nos. 2897 and 2892). They have been declared equal in interest to any of his works in the Prado, at Madrid. Goya (1746-1828) was a sort of second Velasquez, who handed on the light of his greater master to the French colorists of the nineteenth century, who in their turn so strongly influenced modern Americans.
On the same wall hangs a picture attributed to Velasquez himself, a portrait (No. 2890). Velasquez (1599-1660) is too vast a subject to enter upon here; suffice it to say that he is commonly regarded as perhaps the greatest painter, technically speaking, the world has ever seen. "Before a work of Velasquez," wrote Henri Regnault, "I feel as if I were looking at reality through an open window." Art herself, averred Whistler, who owed so much to the Spaniard, dipped the brush of Velasquez in light and air. He is one of the pillars of the temple of modern painting.
Another example of Ribera, the Spaniard of whom we have already spoken in Room 91, hangs near the Tiepolo. It is a painting of St. Jerome - the first translator of the Bible into Latin, and one of the greatest names in the history of the Catholic Church.
Two pictures by Guido Reni (Nos. 2898 and 2893) demand attention. Reni (1575-1642) was a principal representative of the Bolognese school, founded by the three Carracci, who were among the first to preach the doctrine of eclecticism - the theory that from each school and each painter of the past the artist should take what was best. The dominant influences in this school of the Carracci were those of Raphael and Michael Angelo in drawing and composition, and Titian and Corregio in color.
Especial attention should be attached to the Van Dyke (No. 2923). The best and most famous pupil of the great and tremendously fecund Rubeus, was Van Dyke (1599-1631), who brought the message of Italian and Flemish art into England. Indeed, it may be said that Van Dyke, settling in England and fostered by its court, founded the national school. His influence played a strong part in forming the art of Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hoppner, Ramsay, Romney, Raeburn, Opie, and Lawrence - that great group of portrait and landscape artists from whom (especially through Constable) stemmed the French Barbizon school, and, at an earlier date, our first American painters. Van Dyke, then, was the link in the chain which connects us, through England, with the Continent.
Many of the works of these great Englishmen hang upon Walls C and D of this gallery, which opens so many vistas into notable epochs of the past. Among them there is an example of Sir Peter Lely (No. 2906). Checked by the fanaticism of the Puritan revolution, English art, which had risen to such heights under Van Dyke's influence, was revived by another foreigner, the Westphalian, Peter van der Vaes, known as Sir Peter Lely. His famous series of portraits of the beauties of the court of Charles II. hang in Hampton Court.
Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) is represented by two examples of his portrait work (Nos. 2902 and 2922). He is generally accepted as the greatest figure in this early English school, though Gainsborough (1727-1788) surpasses him, declare many critics, in purely artistic qualities, and in the grace and spontaneity of his art. There are three examples of Gainsborough, one (No. 2886) being a portrait, and the others (Nos. 2903 and 2917) characteristic landscapes. There are two typical Romneys (Nos. 2919 and 2916). Hoppner (No. 2885), Alan Ramsay (No. 2909), and Raeburn (No. 2911) were other noteworthy members of this school. With Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) its glory began to pale, dying out with Sir William Beechey, after whom there came a flood of the futile stuff of the early Victorian period. Lawrence has two of his brilliant canvases in this gallery (Nos. 2910 and 2913). There are also two typical Beechey's (Nos. 2908 and 2899).
A name that has a place all by itself in English art is that of William Hogarth. A harsh and powerful moralist, Hogarth (1697-1764) is best known by his famous series of painted parables, "The Rake's Progress," and others, but he was also a portrait painter of considerable consequence. It is one of his portraits (No. 2884) which is shown here.
With one more great name - one which is of greater familiarity to us of today - that of Turner (No. 2889), our study of this room leaves the past and enters by a brilliant portal into modernity. Turner (1775-1851) was a painter who fairly worshipped the sun and who reveled in a romantic region of lyrical light. How nearly he concerns us today we may judge by the fact that both Monet and Pissaro, pioneers of Impressionism, came under the influence of his latest manner when they visited London in 1870. England's virile, procreative spirit played very important parts in the formation of not only the early American school, but also of the Barbizon school, through Constable, and of Impressionism, through Turner.