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The Dawn of Modernity - Munich - Landscape.
Room No. 64.
The work of several men who held commanding positions in American art and who have left the impress of their personalities and of their artistic power upon our public is abundantly displayed in this interesting room.
The large canvas by F. E. Church, the popularly famous "Niagara Falls," hanging on Wall A, is a fine example of the best work of the Hudson River school, Church (1836-1900) was one of the revealers of the beauty of American landscapes, and one of the founders of the national spirit in art. He sought his grandiose and panoramic subjects from Labrador to South America.
Upon the same wall hangs an example of one of the founders of American marine painting, W. T. Richards (1833-1905). Another example of his work hangs upon Wall B. American marine painters have developed this branch of art in a high degree, but certainly the faithfulness of Richard's work gave them a good point of departure.
Worthington Whittridge, with his "A Breezy Day" (No. 2940), and the three pictures by Joseph R. Woodwell (Nos. 2936, 2938 and 2939), among others, continue the history of the early landscape school.
On Wall B hang two typical examples of Homer Martin (Nos. 2953 and 2954), and with this name we breathe the air and reach the artistic domain of modern American landscape. Martin, born at Albany, N. Y., in 1836, and who died in 1897, stands with George Inness and Alexander H. Wyant - the three fathers of the modern school. Martin, like Inness, absorbed the Barbizon influence at the fountain head. As with Corot, it was not so much the objective facts of nature, but the poetic impression which these facts produced, that Martin sought to render in terms of paint. In him was a large measure of that nature-mysticism which has played and still plays so large a part in American thought and literature, as well as in the art of painting.
With Walter Shirlaw's well known "Forging the Shaft," on Wall B, we encounted the work of one of the men through whom the influence of the Munich school, a very powerful influence, indeed, reached this country. The much greater names of Frank Duveneck and William M. Chase, to whose work the high and merited honor of separate rooms has been accorded, are those with which the story of Munich more justly connects.
It will be well, however, at least more convenient, to speak of Munich in this place. Munich succeeded Dusseldorf, in the middle of the ninetenth century, as a center of artistic light and learning for American painters. We will find in this room typical examples of the Dusseldorf idea. Roughly speaking, it was a school of domestic genre; appealing to sentiment, at its best, but mostly to sentimentality; and at its worst degenerating into the falsest kind of melodrama. Munich, happily, did away with all this and restored art to a much higher plane. Its subject matter, under its greatest master, Piloty, who was succeeded by Wagner and Diez, was historical. But its most important lesson was in the technique of painting. Especially through Frank Duveneck, who taught for ten years in Munich, among his pupils being John W. Alexander, Frederick P. Vinton, Joseph H. DeCamp and Julian Story, was its fruitful technical advance spread abroad. And Duveneck for many years has carried on his teaching at the Cincinnati Art Academy. Throwing off the bondage of historical subject matter, and grasping Munich's more helpful lessons of practical painting, the big men who fit their torches at its fire, and expressed their temperaments in terms combined of its ideas and their own, brought to America an influence only second to that of modern France.
J. G. Brown's characteristic canvas, "The Detective Story," on Wall B, a group of his one-time famous street Arabs, is a souvenir of this Dusseldorf influence which Munich did away with.
Another picture which recalls this school, but at its best, and with a peculiar interest of its own, is Thomas Hovenden's "Breaking Home Ties," on Wall D. This was the great popular success of the Exposition at Chicago, and is still deservedly admired. An exquisite flower piece from Hovenden's brush, "Peonies," hangs on Wall C. Hovenden shook off the Dusseldorf influence and became one of the followers of the French school, which asserted itself under John La Farge when the Society of American Artists was founded in 1877, by men who broke away from the conservative element in the National Academy of Design, and led the modern American movement.
With the name of William Morris Hunt, whose large picture, "The Flight of Night," hangs on Wall D, we recall the fact that Hunt, burn in Vermont in 1824, was the first of the big trio composed of himself, George Inness and John La Farge, who were the first of the American painters to go to Barbizon and to absorb the vital influences of modern nature painting of a lofty kind, one might almost say of a religious kind, the kind which seeks the abiding reality which vivifies all outward form. It was Millet who was Hunt's major factor in developing the idealistic side of his art. "The Flight of Time" was the original study for a mural painting for the Capitol at Albany, N. Y., which was destroyed by fire.
Several important works by Thomas Eakins - a "Crucifixion," and "The Singer" - are placed on Wall C. He was a pupil of Bonnat and Gerome at the time when both these eminent Frenchmen bad become disciples of the modern movement toward realism which swept through France in the middle of the last century, a movement championed in literature by Flaubert, the De Goncourts and Zola, and initiated in painting by Gustave Courbet and Manet.
Room No. 54.
We have reached a gallery full of the most serious interest to students and lovers of American art, and the interest is pleasurable; which is something which can not always be affirmed in other rooms where not aesthetic delight, but the gathering together of historical links in the chain of our native painting is what rewards the inquirer.
Twelve pictures by Winslow Homer cover Wall A. There are examples of his work from its early painfully crude style to the full development of his powerful and masculine talent. Born in Boston in 1836, Winslow Homer began life as a lithographer's assistant, developed into a self-taught magazine illustrator, and, though he studied for a short time in Paris, be owed little to outside teaching or influence. Serving as a war artist for Harper's Weekly in the sixties, he remained in the south when the fighting was over and painted many pictures which today have little artistic value. It was when he went to live on the Maine Coast that his deep, sincere, truth-seeking nature found its true field for expression and he began to paint the long series of marines which, beginning with studies of fisher folk ended in dealing with the spirit of Old Ocean itself in a manner which for solemn grandeur remains unequalled by the work of any other American marine painter.
Frank Currier, whose name is associated with Duveneck and Chase, as one of those who brought the teachings of Munich to this country, is another product of Boston, where he was born in 1843. His early studies were made under William Hunt. His association with Munich lasted for thirty years. Four characteristic pictures from his skilled, if not strikingly original brush, hang upon Wall B (Nos. 2529, 2531, 2533, and 2534). There are also on this wall two early works by William Morris Hunt (Nos. 2528 and 2530), a George Fuller, and two Blakelocks, together with an Inness (No. 2539), and one of Winslow Homer's anecdotic earlier things.
It was George Inness who, as said before, was one of the pioneers of those American painters who went to France, and who exerted upon their return such a profound influence. But Inness found the artistic food his nature craved not in the academical studios of Paris but rather from the example of the innovators who at Barbizon were attempting to render nature in a way not in accordance with academical principles, but which was destined to found an entirely new school of painting.
In this school the individual mood of the painter was interpreted in terms of natural beauty, and artists became poets and revealers of spiritual values. Inness, however, did not become a mere imitator of the Barbizon masters. He was "a pathfinder whose originality and fiery zeal for nature blazed a new trail that has led on to the notable expansion of American landscape painting." He was born at Newburg, N. Y., in 1825. and for a time was apprenticed to an engraver. His first instructions in painting were imparted by a French artist residing in New York. But he was really his own teacher; though when Corot came into his life his style became that of his ripest period. His first work was as distinctly linked with the panoramic Hudson River school as his latest was with Corot and synthetic, poetical suggestiveness. He died in 1894.
Inness appears again on Wall C (No. 2547). There is also a Samuel Isham, and two attractive figure pieces by Louis Loeb, but the artist who gives the dominant character to this wall is Alexander H. Wyant (Nos. 2541, 2543, and 2545). As we have had occasion to say before, Wyant was one of the fathers of modern American landscape. He was one of that great trio of initiators of which George Inness and Homer Martin were the other two. Wyant was born in 1836 in Ohio, being the first of the long line of distinguished artists who have come out of the middle west. It was the sight of a picture by George Inness which inspired him to become a painter. He was then twenty and had never before seen any pictures - a tact which throws light upon the primitive condition of his State at that time. He had already began to draw, and now, scraping together a little money, the sensitive, poetical country lad went to New York and tremblingly approached the master who had revealed to him the glories of the kingdom of art. Inness received the aspirant with gracious kindness, looked at his sketches, and said: "Yes, you nave talent," words that were like those of a king to a candidate for knighthood. Going to Europe, Wyant studied under a Dusseldorf artist, but he instinctively rebelled and soon returned to America, where the influence of Inness and the Barbizon paintings gave him what he needed. He was a lyrical, mystical nature painter, and William Wordsworth supplied him with his gospel. He died in 1892, after frequently exclaiming: 'If I had five years more, even one year more, I might do the thing I long to do.' Wyant had the humility so often found in great artists, and so markedly absent in others.
Upon Wall D still more of the works of George Inness (No. 2551) and of George Fuller, two very fine ones (Nos. 2553 and 2554), are found; but the most interesting thing is Albert P. Hyder's "Jonah." Hyder is a singularly independent and original figure. There is something in him that recalls the great English mystic, William Blake. He is a Massachusetts product, born in New Bedford in 1847, and perhaps the spirit of the New England Transcendentalists mingled with his own. This picture invokes the impression made by that carious mystical novelist, Herman Melville, in his "Moby Dick." As a painter, Hyder seeks to compose strange symphonies of color, and these symphonies are linked with spiritual ideas. As pictures they are exotically beautiful, and for those who have a sympathy with symbols they open exciting, though baffling, vistas into the invisible world. Two figure paintings by Dennis Bunker also compel attention. (Nos. 253 and 2549.) Bunker was director of the Gowles Art School in Boston, where he died at the age of twenty-nine before his extraordinary talent had fully developed.
Room No. 57.
Three men of prime importance are grouped together in this room.
The great name of John La Farge looms largely even in this necessarily limited and sketchy tracing of the rise and progress of a young nation's art. Wall D is occupied by a number of his beautiful creations (Nos. 2672, 2673, 2674, and 2675). This last word is justly employed, for La Farge was an authentic creator in an art in which far too many content themselves with imitating and re-echoing the creative ideas of others. A pupil of William Morris Hunt, and, as already noted, one of the first to imbibe the new wine of Barbizon, La Farge combined all the influences which played upon his sensitive and mystical temperament into a synthesis stamped with the seal of his own splendid personality. Teacher as well as painter, he moulded or affected a host or artists. Many authorities consider him the greatest mural creator so far produced in our country.
Walls A and B are devoted to a large number of paintings and drawings by one of the most popular of all Americans, Edwin A. Abbey. Pre-eminently an illustrator, Abbey, when he passed from the domain of magazine and book work, became one of the very few modern devotees of historical painting in its academical sense. The emphasis of modern painting is laid more upon treatment than subject, so that Abbey stood apart from the main development of these latter days. This fact does not lessen his appeal, nor his success. Indeed it is refreshing at times to pass from the more or less feverish atmosphere of those who are struggling with new ideas into the serene sphere of those who, content with established principles, strive to the top of their powers to do their best work. Born in Philadelphia in 1852, Abbey settled in England, and before his death a few years ago he had won the highest honors. His mural pictures decorate many prominent public buildings. Perhaps his best known murals are the "Holy Grail" series in the Boston Public Library.
With the name of Theodore Robinson, a group of whose landscapes occupy Wall C, we touch the more modern note, of which, on its impressionistic side, Robinson was at once a pioneer and a leading American exemplar. He was a pupil of Monet. Born in 1854, in Vermont, he was one of those who broke away from the dominance of academicism in the Society of American Artists in 1577. Before his death in 1896 he had accomplished a large amount of solid and brilliant work in the impressionistic mode.