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The Court of the Four Seasons
As we entered the Court of the Four Seasons the architect said: "If I were to send a student of architecture to this Exposition, I should advise him to spend most of his time here. Of all the courts, it expresses for me the best architectural traditions. Henry Bacon frankly took Hadrian's Villa for his model, and he succeeded in keeping every feature classic. That half dome is an excellent example of a style cultivated by the Romans. The four niches with the groups of the seasons, by Piccirilli, screened behind the double columns, come from a detail in the baths of Caracalla. The Romans liked to glimpse scenes or statuary through columns. Guerin has applied a rich coloring, his favorite pink, and McLaren has added a poetic touch by letting garlands of the African dew plant, that he made his hedge of, flow over from the top. See how Bacon has used the bull's head between the flowers in the ornamentation, one of the most popular of the Renaissance motives. And he has introduced an original detail by letting ears of corn hang from the top of the columns. Those bulls up there, with the two figures, carry the mind back to the days when the Romans made a sacrifice of the sacred bull in the harvest festivals. This Thanksgiving of theirs they called 'The Feast of the Sacrifice.' "
Crowning the half dome sat the lovely figure of Nature, laden with fruits, by Albert Jaegers. On the columns at either side stood two other figures by Jaegers, "Rain," holding out a shell to catch the drops, and "Sunshine," with a palm branch close to her eyes. At each base the figures of the harvesters carried out the agricultural idea with elemental simplicity in friezes that recalled the friezes on the Parthenon. Here, on each side of the half-dome, we have a good example of the composite column, a combination of the Corinthian and the Ionic, with the Ionic scrolls and the acanthus underneath, and with little human figures between the two.
What we liked best about this court was its feeling of intimacy. One could find refreshment here and rest. Much was due to the graceful planting by John McLaren. His masses of deep green around the emerald pool in the center were particularly successful. He had used many kinds of trees, including the olive, the acacia, the eucalyptus, the cypress, and the English laurel.
We lingered in front of these fountains, admiring the classic grace of the groups and the play of water over the steps. We thought that Piccirilli had been most successful with his "Spring." "Of course, it's very conventional work," said the architect, "but the conventional has its place here. It explains just why Milton Bancroft worked out those murals of his in this particular way. He wanted to express the elemental attitude of mind toward nature, the artistic childhood of the race."
When we examined the figures of the Piccirilli groups in detail, we found that they possessed excellent qualities. They carried on the traditions of the wall-fountains so popular in Rome and often associated with water running over steps. The figures were well put together and the lines were good. All of the groups had the surface as carefully worked out. In "Spring" the line of festooning helped to carry on the line leading to the top of the group. There was tender feeling and fine workmanship in "Summer," with the feminine and masculine hands clearly differentiated. "The men of today have a chance to learn a good lesson from Rodin," said the painter. "He is teaching them what he himself may have learned from the work of Donatello and Michael Angelo, the importance of surface accentuation, the securing of the light and shade that are just as necessary in modelling as in painting. In these groups there is definite accentuation of the muscles. It makes the figures seem life-like. The work reminds me of the figure of The Outcast, by the sculpter's brother, Attilio Piccirilli, that we shall see in the colonade of the Fine Arts Palace. So many sculptors like to secure these smooth, meaningless surfaces that excite admiration among those people who care for mere prettiness. It is just about as admirable as the smoothing out of character lines from a photograph. But the Piccirillis go at their work like genuine artists."
Those murals we were inclined to regard as somewhat too simple and formal. "After all," said the architect, "it's a question whether this kind of effort is in the right direction. So often it leads to what seems like acting in art, regarded by some people as insincerity. At any rate, the best that can be said of it is that it's clever imitation. But here it blends in with the feeling of the court and it gives bright spots of color. Guerin has gone as close to white as he dared. So he felt the need of strong color contrasts, and he got Bancroft to supply them. And the colors are repeated in the the other decorations of the court. It's as if the painter had been given a definite number of colors to work with. In this matter of color, by the way, Bancroft had a big advantage over the old Roman painters. Their colors were very restricted. In this court they might have allowed more space for the murals. They're not only limited in size, but in shape as well. Bancroft used to call them his postage-stamps.
In the entrance court we found Evelyn Breatrice Longman's "Fountain of Ceres," the last of the three fountains done on the grounds by women, and decidedly the most feminine. "Mrs. Longman hasn't quite caught the true note," the architect remarked. "The base of the fountain is interesting, though I don't care for the shape. But the figure itself is too prim and modish. Somehow I can't think of Ceres as a proper old maid, dressed with modern frills. The execution, however, shows a good deal of skill. The frieze might be improved by the softening of those sharp lines that cut out the figures like pasteboard. And these women haven't as much vitality as that grotesque head down near the base, spouting out water." The architect glanced up and noticed the figure of "Victory" on one of the gables, so often to be seen during a walk over the grounds. "There's more swing to that figure than to the one here, and yet there's a certain resemblance between them. They both show the same influence, the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Of course, Miss Longman has purposely softened the effect on account of the mildness of her subject. But she might have been more successful with her draperies if she had followed the suggestions in the Winged Victory more closely. There the treatment of the draperies is magnificent. Both the Greeks and the Romans were very fond of this type of figure. And it's often found among the ruins of Pompeii, which kept so close to Rome in its artistic enterprise."
The need of separating the entrance to the Court of the Four Seasons from Ryan's display of scintillators on the imitation of Morro Castle at the edge of the bay, had given John McLaren a chance to create another of these deep green masses that surrounded the pool. It shut the court off from the rest of the world and deepened the intimacy, leaving, however, glimpses of the bay and the hills beyond.