Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The City of Domes -> Chapter 7

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Toward the Court of Four Seasons

"There are critics," I remarked, as we walked back to the Court of the Universe, on the way to the Court of Four Seasons, "who say that the entrance courts ought to have been placed on the other side that the Exposition ought to have been turned round."

"They don't understand the conditions that the architects had to meet. That plan was considered; but when it was pointed out that the strongest winds here blow from the south and southwest, it was seen that it would not be feasible. Besides, the present arrangement has the advantage of leading the people directly to one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The only bays at all like it that I know anything about are the Bay of Palermo and the Bay of Naples. The view of the Exposition from the water is wonderfully fine. It brings out the charm of the straight lines. All things considered, the architects did an uncommonly fine job in making the courts run from the Esplanade."

Under the star figures, among the sculptured flowers' surrounding the head of the sacred bull, birds were nestling. We wondered if those birds were really fooled by those flowers or whether, in these niches, they merely found a comfortable place to rest. "There's an intimate relation, by the way, between birds and architecture. It's said that the first architectural work done in the world consisted in the making of a bird's nest. Some critics think that architecture had its start in the making of a bird's nest. Have you ever watched birds at work on their nests? If you have, you must know that they go about the job like artists. In our profession we like to insist, you know, that there's a big difference between architecture and mere building. In its truest sense architecture is building with a fine motive. It's the artistic printing press of all ages, the noblest of the fine arts and the finest of the useful arts. I know, of course," the architect went on, "that there's another tradition not quite so flattering. It makes the architect merely the worker in the rough, with the artistic finish left to the sculptors. But the outline is nevertheless the architect's, the structure, which is the basis of beauty. Even now a good many of the great French buildings are roughed out in this way, and finished by the sculptors and the decorators."

Under the western arch, leading to the inner court that united the Court of the Universe with the Court of the Four Seasons, we found the two panels by Frank Vincent Du Mond. Their simple story they told plainly enough, the departure of the pioneers from the Atlantic border for the Far West on the Pacific. In the panel to the right we saw the older generation saying farewell to the younger, and on the other side we saw the travelers arriving in California and finding a royal welcome from the Westerners in a scene of typical abundance, even the California bear showing himself in amiable mood. "That bear bothered Du Mond a good deal. He wasn't used to painting bears. It isn't nearly as life-like as those human figures."

What I liked best about the murals was their splendor of coloring, and their pictorial suggestiveness and vigor of characterization. Perhaps there was a little too much effort on the part of the painter to suggest animation. But why, I asked, had Du Mond made most of the faces so distinctively Jewish?

My question was received with an exclamation of surprise. Yes, the strong Jewish types of features were certainly repeated again and again. Perhaps Du Mond happened to use Jewish models. It hardly seemed possible that the effect could have been intentional.

When I pointed to one of the figures, a youth holding out a long bare arm, and remarked that I had never seen an arm of such length, my criticism brought out an unsuspected principle of art. "The Cubists would say that you were altogether too literal. They are making us all understand that what art ought to do is to express not what we merely see with our eyes, but what we feel. If by lengthening that arm, the painter gets an effect that he wants, he's justified in refusing to be bound by the mathematical facts of nature. Art is not a matter of strict calculation, that is, art at its best and its purest. It's a matter of spiritual perception. All the resources of the artist ought to be bent toward expressing a spiritual idea and making it alive and beautiful through outline and color."

"But how about the mixture of allegory and realism that we see in these murals and in so much of the art here? Don't you find it disturbing?"

"Not at all. There's no reason in the world why the allegorical and the real should not go together, provided, of course, they don't grossly conflict and become absurd. What the artist is always working for is the effect of beauty. If a picture is beautiful, no matter how the beauty is achieved, it deserves recognition as a work of art. In these murals Du Mond has tried to reach as closely as he could to nature without being too literal and without sacrificing artistic effect. He has even introduced among his figures some well-known Californians, a Bret Harte, in the gown of the scholar, and William Keith, carrying a portfolio to suggest his painting."

In that inner court we noticed how cleverly Faville had subordinated the architecture so that it should modestly connect the great central courts. McLaren was keeping it glowing on either side with the most brilliant California flowers. The ornamental columns, the Spanish doorways, and the great windows of simple and yet graceful design were all harmonious, and Guerin and Ryan had helped out with the coloring.

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