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The Panama-Pacific Exposition
The ideals which animated the makers of the Panama-Pacific Exposition were different from those that served to inspire the creators of the Panama-California. It was not simply the civilization west of the Rockies which they aimed to exploit. Their scope was not local, nor even national. It was international. Confronted by such a situation the architects, sculptors, and painters were forced to extend their field of activity and broaden their sympathies. No single style would have sufficed. Diverse factors had to be pressed into service, and out of this diversity it was necessary to evolve a sense of harmonious unity. More practical than traditional, the problem entailed tact, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. Though it was difficult save in a broad way to place restrictions upon form, it was quite possible to control the element of colour, and herein lies the exposition's claim to originality. Festal and jubilant in detail, the Panama-Pacific was brilliantly chromatic in general aspect. The whole was fused into a colour fantasia at once logical and agreeable. Had its magic been dispelled the ensemble would have lapsed into something closely resembling ornate commonplaceness.
A preliminary stroll along the principal concourses and through the main courts was sufficient to convince one of the eclectic character of the architecture of the San Francisco Exposition. Entering from Scott Street you found yourself in a stately formal garden which was French in inspiration. To the left was the Palace of Horticulture, Byzantine in origin and Gallic in ornamentation. On the right was Festival Hall, which recalled the Théâtre des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Directly facing you was the Tower of Jewels, which based itself upon various Italian Renaissance prototypes. Recalling the spacious area in front of St. Peter's in Rome, the Court of the Universe was also Italian Renaissance in persuasion, while the pardonably pretentious Column of Progress resembled similar shafts dedicated to Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. It would be superfluous to trace in detail the genealogy of the exposition architecture. You had the intricacy of Spanish Gothic, the massive simplicity of the Romanesque, the fertility of the Renaissance, and that serenity of spirit which remains the imperishable legacy of the Greeks. From the standpoint of serious criticism, if such an attitude be not incompatible with our theme, the best efforts were the Palace of Horticulture and the Palace of Fine Arts. The former was one of the most diverting and satisfactory of the entire group. The latter, for breadth of conception and nobility of design, stood unapproached. A special feature was made of the several contiguous courts, all of which were given euphonious names. They varied in merit, and in general may be said to have been more expositional than inspirational.
There were eleven units in the central plan, eight of which were assembled within the so-called "walled city." To each of these, the basic tonality of which was the now popular travertine, the director of colour applied his favourite tints. Beyond question the result was stimulating, and, in the main, successful. The least variegated, and most effective, was the Palace of Horticulture, where the only colour used was lattice green. In a building such as the Palace of Fine Arts the structural integrity was not enhanced by the profuse employment of ochre, verde antique, burnt orange, and Pompeian red. Granting the ephemeral nature of the task in hand it nevertheless seems that colour should on principle be less superficial than inherent. Mr. Guérin's inspiration was frankly scenic. He gave us a pastel city, joyously polychromatic, replete with beauty, and of rainbow evanescence.
It is difficult to plan an exposition such as the Panama-Pacific without facing certain serious issues, not the least of which may be designated as the plastic problem. Boldly to suppress sculpture as they did at San Diego was of course out of the question in an undertaking of similar pretension. There was apparently nothing to do save adhere to the customary symbolic tradition, to fall back upon perennial abstractions more or less loosely embodied in relief or in the round. The sculpture at San Francisco, while suffering from the usual congenital defects, was, however, more closely related to the architectural ensemble than has frequently been the case. Grateful mention should be made in this connexion of Mr. Putnam's Mermaids, adorning the fountains in the South Gardens, of Mrs. Burroughs's Fountain of Youth in the east tower colonnade, of Mr. Manship's four groups in the Court of the Universe, and Mr. Fraser's The End of the Trail at the entrance to the Court of Palms. As for the generality of the work in this particular medium it scarcely, save in a few instances, transcended mediocrity. One contemplated such set pieces as the Nations of the East and the Nations of the West with but scant enthusiasm, and when it came to monuments like the Genius of Creation one conceded the lofty seriousness of purpose while at the same time regretting that such concepts have in large measure ceased to move or inspire. After exhibiting manifest promise, our sculpture seems to have remained stationary. Thus far we have assuredly failed to produce a mighty emotionalist in marble, such as Rodin, or a sturdy-souled apostle of labour, such as Constantin Meunier.
What has been said of the sculpture at the Panama-Pacific Exposition applies in a measure to the mural decoration. These ambitious panels seemed as a general thing to lack conviction. Mr. Dodge's apotheosis of the Atlantic and Pacific in the Tower of Jewels, and Mr. Brangwyn's series dedicated to the Air, Earth, Fire, and Water were distinctly better than was the work of their colleagues. Full of verve and true to the limitations of his craft, Mr. Dodge achieved a fine effect. Always opulent in line and ample in pattern, Mr. Brangwyn's subjects, each of which was treated in duplicate, revealed this artist in congenial vein. He takes us back, in these broadly handled coinpositions, to the days when the world was young and the primal wonder of man began to manifest itself in countless questing ways. There is a definite pictorial idea in each of these rich-toned panels. The figures group themselves logically and move in unison. You are never in doubt as to the painter's meaning. His method is not that of the vague symbolist. It is that of the earnest-minded seeker after the inherent possibilities of graphic representation. Conceived in less serious spirit, the other murals served their purpose sufficiently well. Mr Simmons's scheme was full of technical novelty and interest. Mr. Reid's, decorations in the dome of the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts constituted a joyous cycle, and Mr. Hassam's contribution to the Court of Palms was instinct with lyric lightness. Whatever their shortcomings in the matter of fundamental ideas or depth of feeling, these latter men approached their task in appropriately festal mood, which, after all, was the important consideration in the given circumstance.
While it is difficult to condense one's impressions of the Panama-Pacific Exposition into summary phrases, it nevertheless appears that its ultimate significance will prove social and psychological as well as aesthetic. The love of form and colour which you here saw displayed in such prodigal fashion suggested something pagan and Dionysian. Demonstrations of this character do not date from today. They are as old as humanity itself. They hark back to Rome and to Greece, to the basin of the Nile and the banks of the Euphrates. In spirit this exposition was akin to the pageants and processionals of bygone times. Phoenix-like, a city rose from darkness and disaster, and her children united in offering their tribute of appreciation and propitiation. There was downright inspiration in such a magnificent display of energy, such a marvellous demonstration of recuperative power. The opening of the Canal to the traffic of the universe was an excuse, a mere pretext; the essential point is that here was a community teeming with energy and taking legitimate pride in a phenomenal achievement. And such emotions found fitting semblance in visible form, in architecture, sculpture, and the heightened eloquence of tint and tone.
While San Diego kept modestly within the confines of a concise and characterful local tradition. San Francisco proclaimed herself a world creation. That element of cosmopolitanism which is by no means her least claim to attention was constantly to the fore in the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Colour, all things considered, proved the dominant contribution of the undertaking as a whole, and this is consistent, for colour is the keynote alike of the Pacific slope and of the spacious and vibrant Southwest. In the East our taste for chromatic expression has been modified by generations of Puritan and Quaker constraint. West of the Rockies it is more free and spontaneous. You find it in nature and in man. You find it in the vanishing Indian, in the mellifluous place names bestowed by the early padres and pobladores, and in the racy phraseology of the prospector who first opened the region to his less intrepid transcontinental kinsfolk.