It is well to say, in a word or two, what this short book aims at. Unavoidably inferior to Mr. Hamerton’s in merit, it is voluntarily much more limited in scheme. Taking only the four artists who seem to me most worthy of note among the many good etchers of our day, it seeks to study their work with a degree of detail unnecessary and even impossible in a volume of wider scope. In trying to do this, it can hardly help affording, at least incidentally, some notion of what I hold to be the right principles of etching, nor can it wholly ignore the relation of etching to other art, or the relation of Art to Nature and Life. But these points are touched but briefly, and only by the way.
A book of larger aim, on Etching in England and France, might justifiably have given almost as much importance to Macbeth and Tissot here, and to Bracquemond there, as has been given in the annexed pages to Haden, Whistler, Jacquemart, and Legros. But Macbeth and Tissot belong to a younger generation than do any of my four masters. Much of what the art of etching could do in modern days was already in evidence before their work began. My four masters are four pioneers. Bracquemond may be a pioneer also; but in his original work, skilled and individual as that is, he has chosen to be very limited. The place he occupies is honourable, but it is small.
About the four chapters that here follow I need say very little. ivThat on Seymour Haden has been passed through the Art Journal, that on Legros through the Academy, that on Jules Jacquemart through the Nineteenth Century. All have now been revised. Something of the chapter on Whistler has also appeared in the Nineteenth Century, but in quite different form, and I will explain why. In the first place, since that article appeared, Mr. Whistler has given me cause to modify to some extent my estimate of his art. Having seen this cause, I have acted on it. I am not a Mede nor a Persian. And in a system of criticism which seeks to inquire and understand, rather than to denounce, there is place for change. Again, much of the article in the Nineteenth Century was occasioned not by Mr. Whistler’s practice, but by the attack which he made upon a great teacher and critic, and, by implication, upon all critics who allow themselves that abstinence from technical labour which is often essential if their criticism is to be neither immature for want of time to spend on it nor prejudiced because of their exclusive association with some special ways or cliques in art. Whatever dealt with this business I have now withdrawn. It was written for a particular purpose, and its purpose was served.
A word now on a matter of detail. Two expressions in the body of this volume—“our Dusty Millers” (page 10), and “M. Rodin here” (page 42)—which only the really careful reader will honour me by noticing, are due to the fact that after the body of the volume was finally printed, some change was made in the choice of the illustrations. For Mr. Haden’s copper of Dusty Millers, I have been happy to be able to substitute Grim Spain, the only Spanish subject of his which I thoroughly like. And in place of M. Legros’s learned but hardly attractive portrait of M. Rodin, it has been still more fortunate that it has been possible to procure the portrait of Mr. Watts, the painter, one of the most triumphant instances of Legros’s art.
|Chapter I.||SEYMOUR HADEN||1|
|Chapter II.||JULES JACQUEMART||12|
|Chapter III.||J. A. M. WHISTLER||28|
|Chapter IV.||ALPHONSE LEGROS||40|
|“GRIM SPAIN”||Etched by F. Seymour Haden||10|
|ORIENTAL PORCELAIN||by Jules Jacquemart||16|
|PUTNEY||by J. A. McN. Whistler||36|
|PORTRAIT OF G. F. WATTS, R.A.||by Alphonse Legros||42|
Perhaps the two qualities which, as one gets a little blasé about the productions of Art, continue the most to stir and stimulate, and to quicken the sense of enjoyment, are the quality of vigour and the quality of exquisiteness. If an artist is so fortunate as to possess both these virtues in any fulness, he is sure not only to please a chosen public during several generations, but to please the individual student—if he be a capable student—at all times and in all moods, and, of the two, perhaps, that is really the severer test. But to have these qualities in any fulness, and in equal measure, is given to a man only here and there over the range of centuries. It is given to a Titian, it is given to a Rembrandt, and of course to a Turner; it is given in the days of the Grand Monarch to a Watteau, and in the days of the Second Empire to a Méryon. But so notable and rare a union is denied—is it not?—even to a Velasquez; while what we praise most in Moreau le Jeune is by no means a facility of vigour, and what is characteristic of David Cox is certainly no charm of exquisiteness. To unite the two qualities—I mean always, of course, in the fulness and equality first spoken of—demands not a rich temperament alone. The full display of either by itself demands that. It demands a temperament of quite exceptional variety: the presence, it sometimes seems, 2almost of two personalities—so unlike are the two phases of the gift which we call genius.
With the artists of energy and vigour I class Mr. Seymour Haden. Theirs is the race to which, indeed, quite obviously, he belongs. Alive, undoubtedly, to grace of form, fire and vehemence of expression are yet his dominant qualities. With him, as the artistic problem is first conceived, so must it be executed, and it must be executed immediately. His energy is not to be exhausted, but of patience there is a smaller stock. For him, as a rule, no second thought is the wisest; there is no fruitful revision, no going back to-day upon yesterday’s effort; little of careful piecing and patching, to put slowly right what was wrong to begin with. He is the artist of the first impression. Probably it was just and justly conveyed; but if not, there the failure stands, such as it is, to be either remembered or forgotten, but hardly to be retrieved. Such as it is, it is done with, no more to be recalled than the player’s last night’s performance of Hamlet or Macbeth. Other things will be in the future: the player is looking forward to to-night; but last night—that is altogether in the past.
There is no understanding Seymour Haden’s work, its virtues and deficiencies, unless this note of his temperament, this characteristic of his productions, is continually borne in mind. It is the secret of his especial delight in the art of etching; the secret of the particular uses to which he has so resolutely applied that art. With the admission of the characteristic, comes necessarily the admission of the limitation it suggests. Accustomed to labour and patience, not only in the preparation for the practice of an art, but in the actual practice of it, one may possibly be suspicious of the art which substantially demands that its work shall be done in a day if it is to be done at all. Such art, one 3says, forfeits, at all events, its claim to the rank that is accorded to the œuvre de longue haleine, when that is carried to a successful issue and not to an impotent conclusion. To flicker bravely for an hour; to burn continuously at a white heat—they are very different matters. The mental powers which the two acts typify must be differently valued. And the art that asks, as one of its conditions, that it shall be swift, not only because swiftness is sometimes effective, but because the steadiness of sustained effort has a difficulty of its own—that art, to use an illustration from poetry and from music, takes up its place, voluntarily, with the lyrists, and with Schubert, as we knew him of old—foregoes voluntarily all comparison with the epic, and with Beethoven.
Well, this remark—a remonstrance we can hardly call it—has undoubtedly to be accepted. Only it must be laid to Mr. Seymour Haden’s credit that he has shown a rare sagacity in the choice of his method of expression. The conditions of the art of etching—a special branch of the engraver’s art, and not to be considered wholly alone—are fitted precisely to his temperament, and suit his means to perfection. Etching is qualified especially to give the fullest effect to the mental impression with the least possible expenditure of merely tedious work. Etching is for the vigorous sketch—and it is for the exquisite sketch likewise. It is for the work in which suggestion may be ample and unstinted, but in which realisation may, if the artist chooses, hardly be pursued at all. To say that, has become one of the commonplaces of criticism. We are not all of us so gifted, however, that commonplaces are to be dispensed with for the remainder of time.
Of the great bygone masters of the art, some have pursued it in Mr. Haden’s way, and others have made it approach more nearly to the work of the deliberate engraver. Vandyke etched as a speedy 4and decisive sketcher; the later and elaborate work added to his plates was added by other hands, and produced only a monotonous completeness destructive of the first charm, the charm of the vivid impression. Méryon, whose noble work Mr. Haden has rightly felt and pronounced to be “not impulsive and spontaneous, but reflective and constructive, slow and laborious,” used etching evidently in a different method and for different ends. With something of the patience of a deliberate line-engraver, he built up his work, piece by piece and stroke by stroke: touching here, and tinkering there—he says so himself—and the wonder of it is, that for all his slowness and delay, the work itself remains simple and broad, and the poetical motive is held fast to. This Mr. Haden has expressly recognised. Nothing eluded Méryon. The impressions that with some men come and go, he pertinaciously retained. Through all mechanical difficulties, his own quality of concentrativeness preserved to his work the quality of unity. Then, again, it must be said that the greatest etcher of old time, Rembrandt, and one of the greatest, Claude, employed the two methods, and found the art equal to the expression both of the first fancy and of the realised fact. To see which, one may compare the first state of Rembrandt’s Clément de Jonghe—with its rapid seizure of the features of a character of extraordinary subtlety—and the Ephraim Bonus, with its deliberate record of face and gesture, dress and environment; and in Claude the exquisite free sketching in the first state of Shepherd and Shepherdess with the quite final work of the second state of Le Bouvier. Mr. Haden, then, has full justification for his view of etching; yet Mr. Haden’s view of etching is not the only one that can be held with fairness.
For all but forty years now Seymour Haden has been an etcher, 5so that we may naturally see in his work the characteristics of youth and those of an advanced maturity, in which, nevertheless, the eye is not dimmed nor the natural fire abated. That is to say, the mass of his labour—over a hundred and eighty etchings—already affords the opportunity of comparison between subjects essayed with the careful and delicate timidity of a student of twenty, and subjects disposed of with the command and assurance that come of years, of experience, and—may I add?—of recognition. But in his early time Mr. Haden did but little on the copper, and then he would have had no reason to resent the title of “amateur,” now somewhat unreasonably bestowed on a workman who has given us the Agamemnon, the Sunset on the Thames, the Sawley, and the Calais Pier. Somewhere, perhaps, knocking about the world are the six little plates, chiefly of Roman subjects, which Mr. Haden painfully and delicately engraved in the years 1843 and 1844. All that remains of them, known to the curious in such matters, is a tiny group of impressions cherished in the upper chambers of a house in Hertford Street—a scanty barrier, indeed, between these first tentative efforts and oblivion.
But in 1858 and 1859 Mr. Haden began to etch seriously; he began to give up to the practice of this particular way of draughtsmanship a measure of time that permitted well-addressed efforts and serious accomplishments. Fine conceptions in all the Arts ask, as their most essential condition, some leisure of mind, some power of acquisition of the happy mood in which one sees the world best, and in which one can labour joyously at passing on the vision. The best Art may be produced with trouble, but it must be with the “joyful trouble” of Macduff. Nothing is more marked in the long 6array of Mr. Haden’s mature work than the sense of pleasure he has had in doing it. How much, generally, has it been the result of pleasant impressions! How much the most satisfactory and sufficient has it been when it has been the most spontaneous! Compare the absolute unity, the clearly apparent motive, of such an etching as Sunset on the Thames with the more obscure aim and more limited achievement of the Windsor. The plates of the fruitful years 1859, 1860, 1863, 1864, and so onward, were done, it seems, under happy conditions.
Any one who turns over Seymour Haden’s plates in chronological order, will find that though, as it chanced, a good many years had passed, yet very little work in etching had been done before the artist had found his own method and was wholly himself. There were first the six dainty little efforts of 1843 and 1844; then, when etching was resumed in 1858—or, rather, when it was for the first time taken to seriously—there were the plates of Arthur, Dasha, A Lady Reading, and Amalfi. In these he was finding his way; and then, with the first plates of the following year, his way was found; we have the Mytton Hall, the Egham, and the Water Meadow, perfectly vigorous, perfectly suggestive sketches, still unsurpassed. In later years we find a later manner, a different phase of his talent, a different result of his experience; but in 1859 he was already, I repeat, entirely himself, and doing work that is neither strikingly better nor strikingly worse than the work which has followed it a score of years after. In the work of 1859, and in the work of the last period, there will be found about an equal measure of beautiful production. In each there will be something to admire warmly, and something that will leave us indifferent. And in the etchings of 1859, 7in the very plates that I have mentioned, there is already enough to attest the range of the artist’s sympathy with nature and with picturesque effect. Mytton Hall, seen or guessed at through the gloom of its weird trees, is remarkable for a certain garden stateliness—a disorder that began in order, a certain dignity of nature in accord with the curious dignity and quietude of Art. The Egham subject has the silence of the open country; the Water Meadow is an artist’s subject quite as peculiarly, for “the eye that sees” is required most of all when the question is how to find the beautiful in the apparently commonplace.
Next year, amongst other good work, we have the sweet little plate of Combe Bottom, which, in a fine impression, more than holds its own against the Kensington Gardens, and gives us at least as much enjoyment by its excellence of touch as does the more intricate beauty of the Shore Mill Pond, with its foliage so varied and so rich. In the next year to which any etchings are assigned in Sir William Drake’s catalogue—a thoroughly systematic book, and done with the aid of much information from the author of the plates—we find Mr. Haden departing from his usual habit of recording his impression of nature, for the object, sometimes not a whit less worthy, of recording his impression of some chosen piece of master’s art. This is in the year 1865, and the subject is a rendering of Turner’s drawing of the Grande Chartreuse, and it is an instance of the noble and artistic translation of work to which a translator may hold himself bound to be faithful. And here is the proper place, I think, to mention the one such other instance of a subject inspired, not by nature, but by the art of Turner, which Seymour Haden’s work affords—the large plate of the Calais Pier, done in 1874. Nothing shows Mr. Haden’s sweep 8of hand, his masculine command of his means, better than that. Such an exhibition of spontaneous force is altogether refreshing. One or two points about it demand to be noted. In the first place, it makes no pretence, and exhibits no desire, to be a pure copy. Without throwing any imputation on the admirable craft of the pure interpreter and simple reproducer who enables us to enjoy so much of an art that might otherwise never come near to many of us, I may yet safely say that I feel sure that Mr. Haden had never the faintest intention of performing for the Calais Pier this copyist’s service. To him the Calais Pier of Turner—the sombre earlyish work of the master, now hanging in the National Gallery—was as a real scene. It was not to be scrupulously imitated; what was to be realised, or what was to be suggested, was the impression that it made. With a force of expression peculiar to him, Seymour Haden has succeeded in this aim; but, I think, he has succeeded best in the rare unpublished state which he knows as the “first biting,” and next best in the second state—the first state having some mischief of its own to bear which in the preparatory proofs had not arisen, and in the second state had ceased. The plate is arranged now with a ground for mezzotint—it lies awaiting that work—and if Mr. Haden, having now retraced to the full such steps as may have been at least partially mistaken, is but master of the new method—can but apply the mezzotint with anything of that curious facility and success with which Turner applied it to a few of his plates in Liber Studiorum, in which the professional engraver had no part—then we shall have a chef-d’œuvre of masculine suggestion which will have been worth waiting for.
To go back to the somewhat earlier plates. The Penton Hook, which is one of many wrought in 1864, is another instance—and we 9have had several already—of the artist’s singular power in the suggestion of tree form. Of actual leafage, leafage in detail, he is a less successful interpreter, as is indeed only natural in an etcher devoted on the whole to broad effects, looking resolutely at the ensemble. Detail is nothing to him—ensemble, balance, is all. But the features of trees, as growth of trunk and bend of bough reveal them, he gives to us as no other contemporary etcher can. And in old Art they are less varied in Claude and in Ruysdael. Mere leafage counted for more with both of these. And if it is too much to compare Mr. Haden as a draughtsman of the tree with a master of painting so approved as Crome—the painter especially of oak and willow—as an etcher of the tree he may yet be invited to occupy no second place, for Crome’s rare etchings are remarkable for draughtsmanship chiefly. Crome knew little of technical processes in etching, and so no full justice can ever be done to his etched work, which passed, imperfect, out of his own hands, and was then spoilt in the hands of others—dull, friendly people, who fancied they knew more than he did of the trick of the craft, but who knew nothing of the instinct of the art. Crome himself in etching was like a soldier unequipped. Mr. Haden has a whole armoury of weapons.
Seymour Haden has been a fisherman; I do not know whether he has been a sailor. But, at all events, purely rural life and scene, however varied in kind, are discovered to be insufficient, and the foliage of the meadow and the waters of the trout stream are often left for the great sweep of tidal river, the long banks that enclose it, the wide sky that enlivens every great flat land, and by its infinite mobility and immeasurable light gives a soul, I always think, to the scenery of the plain. Then we have Sunset on the Thames (1865), Erith Marshes 10(1865), and the Breaking Up of the Agamemnon (1870), the last of them striking a deep poetic note—that of our associations with an England of the past that has allowed us the England of to-day—a note struck by Turner in the Fighting Téméraire, and struck so magnificently by Browning and by Tennyson in verse for which no Englishman can ever be too thankful.
1. I mean, of course, in “Home Thoughts from Abroad,” and in the “Revenge: a Ballad of the Fleet.”
In the technique of these later etchings there is, perhaps, no very noticeable departure from that of the earlier but yet mature work. But in composition or disposition of form we seem to see an increasing love of the sense of spaciousness, breadth, potent effect. The work seems, in these best examples, to become more dramatic and more moving. The hand demands occasion for the large exercise of its freedom. These characteristics are very noticeable in the Sawley Abbey of 1873. Nor are they absent from our Dusty Millers.
Sawley Abbey is etched on zinc, a substance of which Mr. Haden has of late become fond. It affords “a fat line”—a line without rigidity—and so far it is good. But the practical difficulty with it is that the particles of iron it contains make it uncertain and tricky, and we may notice that an etching on zinc is apt to be full of spots and dots. It succeeds admirably, however, where it does not fail very much. Of course its frequent failure places it out of the range of the pure copyist who copies or translates as matter of business. He cannot afford its risk. In 1877—a year in which Mr. Haden made a number of somewhat undesirable etchings in Spain, and a more welcome group of sketches in Dorsetshire, on the downs and the coast—Mr. Haden worked much upon zinc. And it is in this 11year that a change that might before have been foreseen is clearly apparent. Dry point before this had been united with etching, but not till now have we much of what is wholly dry point; and from this date the dry-point work is almost, though not altogether, continuous, the artist having rejoiced, he tells me, in its freedom and rapidity.
The Dorsetshire etchings, Windmill Hill, Nine Barrow Down, and the like, are most of them dry points. In them, though the treatment of delicate distances is not evaded, there is especial opportunity for strong and broad effects of light and shade. Perhaps it is to these that a man travels as his work continues, and as, in continuing, it develops. At least it may be so in landscape.
Here, for the present, is arrested the etched work of an artist thoroughly individual, thoroughly vigorous, but against whom I have charged, by implication, sometimes a lack of exquisiteness, the only too frequent but not inevitable drawback of the quality of force. So much for the work of the hand. For the process of the mind—the character which sets the hand upon the labour, and pricks it on to the execution of the aim—the worst has been said also, when I said, at the beginning, that Mr. Haden lacked that power of extremely prolonged concentration which produced the epic in literature and the epic in painting. These two admissions made, there is little of just criticism of Seymour Haden’s work that must not be admiring and cordial—the record of enjoyment rather than of dissatisfaction—so much faithful and free suggestion does the work contain of the impressions that gave rise to it, so much variety is compassed, so much are we led into unbroken paths, and so much evidence is there of eager desire to enlarge the limits of our Art, whether by plunge into a new theme, or by application of a new process.
There died, in September, 1880, at his mother’s house in the high road between the Arc de Triomphe and the Bois, a unique artist whose death was for the most part unobserved by the frequenters of picture galleries. He had contributed but little to picture galleries. There had not been given to Jules Jacquemart the pleasure of a very wide notoriety, but in many ways he was happy, in many fortunate. He was fortunate, to begin with, in his birth; for though he was born in the bourgeoisie, it was in the cultivated bourgeoisie, and it was in the bourgeoisie of France. His father, Albert Jacquemart, the known historian of pottery and porcelain, and of ancient and fine furniture, was of course a faithful and diligent lover of beautiful things, so that Jules Jacquemart was reared in a house where little was ugly and much was precious; a house organized, albeit unconsciously, on William Morris’s admirable plan, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Thus his own natural sensitiveness, which he had inherited, was highly cultivated from the first. From the first he breathed the liberal and refining air of Art. He was happy in the fact that adequate fortune gave him the liberty, in health, of choosing his work, and in sickness, of taking his rest. With comparatively rare exceptions, he did precisely the 13things which he was fitted to do, and did them perfectly, and being ill when he had done them, he betook himself to the exquisite South, where colour is, and light—the things we long for the most when we are most tired in cities—and so there came to him towards the end a surprise of pleasure in so beautiful a world. He was happy in being surrounded all his life long by passionate affection in the narrow circle of his home. His mother survives him—the experience of bereavement being hers, when it would naturally have been his. For himself, he was happier than she, for he had never suffered any quite irreparable loss. And in one other way he was probably happy—in that he died in middle age, his work being entirely done. The years of deterioration and of decay, in which first the artist does but dully reproduce the spontaneous work of his youth, and then is sterile altogether—the years in which he is no longer the fashion at all, but only the landmark or the finger-post of a fashion that is past—the years when a name once familiar is uttered at rare intervals and in tones of apology as the name of one whose performance has never quite equalled the promise he had aforetime given—these years never came to Jules Jacquemart. He was spared these years.
But few people care, or are likely to care very much, for the things which chiefly interested him, and which he reproduced in his art; and even the care for these things, where it does exist, does, unfortunately, by no means imply the power to appreciate the art by which they are retained and diffused. “Still-life,” using the expression in its broadest sense—the pourtrayal of objects, natural or artificial, for the objects’ sake, and not as background or accessory—has never been rated very highly or very widely loved. Here and there a professed connoisseur has had pleasure from some piece of exquisite workmanship; 14a rich man has looked with idly caressing eye upon the skilful record of his gold plate or of the grapes of his forcing-house. There has been praise for the adroit Dutchmen, and for Lance and Blaise Desgoffe. But the public generally—save perhaps in the case of William Hunt, his birds’ nests and his primroses—has been indifferent to these things, and often the public has been right in its indifference, for often these things are done in a poor spirit, a spirit of servile imitation or servile flattery, with which Art has nothing to do. But there are exceptions, and there is a better way of looking at these things. William Hunt was often one of these exceptions; Chardin was always—save in a rare instance or so of dull pomposity of rendering—Jules Jacquemart, take him for all in all, was of these exceptions the most brilliant and the most peculiar. He, in his best art of etching, and his fellows and forerunners in the art of painting, have done something to endow the beholders of their work with a new sense, with the capacity for new experiences of enjoyment—they have pourtrayed not so much matter as the very soul of matter. They have put matter in its finest light: it has got new dignity. Chardin did this with his peaches, his pears, his big coarse bottles, his copper saucepans, his silk-lined caskets. Jules Jacquemart did it—we shall see in more of detail presently—very specially with the finer work of artistic men in household matter and ornament; with his blue and white porcelain, with his polished steel of chased armour and sword-blade, with his Renaissance mirrors, with his precious vessels of crystal and jade and jasper. But when he was most fully himself, his work most characteristic and individual, he shut himself off from popularity. Even untrained observers could accept the agile engraver as an interpreter of other men’s pictures—of Meissonier’s inventions, or Van der Meer’s, or Greuze’s—but they 15could not accept him as the interpreter at first hand of the treasures which were so peculiarly his own that he may almost be said to have discovered them and their beauty. They were not alive to the wonders that have been done in the world by the hands of artistic men. How could they be alive to the wonders of this their reproduction—their translation, rather, and a very free and personal one—into the subtle lines, the graduated darks, the soft or sparkling lights, of the artist in etching?
On September 7th, 1837, Jacquemart was born, in Paris, and the profession of Art, in one or other of its branches, came naturally to a man of his race. A short period of practice in draughtsmanship, and only a small experience of the particular business of etching, sufficed to make him a master. As time proceeded, he of course developed; he found new methods—ways not previously known to him. But little of what is obviously tentative and immature is to be noticed even in his earliest work. He springs into his art an artist fully armed, like Rembrandt with the wonderful portrait of his mother “lightly etched.” In 1860, when he is but twenty-three, he is at work upon the illustrations to his father’s Histoire de la Porcelaine, and though in that publication the absolute realisation of wonderful matter is not, perhaps, so noteworthy as in the Gemmes et Joyaux de la Couronne—the touch is not so large, so energetic, and so free—there is evident already the hand of the delicate artist and the eye that can appreciate and render almost unconsidered beauties. Exquisite matter and the forms that Art has given to common things have found their new interpreter. The Histoire de la Porcelaine contains twenty-six plates, most of which are devoted to Oriental china, of which the elder Jacquemart possessed a magnificent collection at a 16time when the popular rage for “blue and white” was still unpronounced. Many of Albert Jacquemart’s pieces figure in the book; they were pieces the son had lived with and which he knew familiarly. Their charm, their delicacy, he perfectly represented, and of each individual piece he appreciated the characteristics, passing too, without sense of difficulty, from the bizarre ornamentation of the East to the ordered forms and satisfying symmetry which the high taste of the Renaissance gave to its products. Thus, in the Histoire de la Porcelaine, amongst the quaintly naturalistic decorations from China, and amongst the ornaments of Sèvres, with their pretty boudoir graces and airs of light luxury fit for the Marquise of Louis Quinze and the sleek young abbé, her pet and her counsellor, we find, rendered with just as thorough an appreciation, a Brocca Italienne, the Brocca of the Medicis, of the sixteenth century, slight and tall, where the lightest of Renaissance forms, the thin and reed-like lines of the arabesque—no mass or splash of colour—is patterned with measured exactitude, with rhythmic completeness, over the smoothish surface. It is wonderful how little work there is in the etching, and how much is suggested. The actual touches are almost as few as those which Jacquemart employed afterwards in some of his light effects of rock-crystal, the material which he has interpreted perhaps best of all. One counts the touches, and one sees how soon and how strangely he has got the power of suggesting all that he does not actually give, of suggesting all that is in the object by the little that is in the etching. On such work may be bestowed, amongst much other praise, that particular praise which, to fashionable French criticism, delighted especially with the feats of adroitness, and occupied with the evidence of the artist’s dexterity, seems the highest—Il n’y a rien, et il y a tout.
Execution so brilliant can hardly also be faultless, and without mentioning many instances among his earlier work, where the defect is chiefly noticeable, it may be said that the roundness of round objects is more than once missing in his etchings. Strange that the very quality first taught to, and first acquired by, the most ordinary pupil of a Government School of Art should have been wanting to an artist often as adroit in his methods as he was individual in his vision! The Vase de Vieux Vincennes, from the collection of M. Léopold Double, is a case to the point. It has the variety of tone, the seeming fragility of texture and ornament, the infinity of decoration, the rendering of the subtle curvature of a flower, and of the transparency of the wing of a passing insect. It has everything but the roundness—everything but the quality that is the easiest and the most common. But so curious a deficiency, occasionally displayed, could not weigh against the amazing evidence of various cleverness, and Jacquemart was shortly engaged by the publishers and engaged by the French Government.
The difference in the commissions accorded by those two—the intelligent service which the one was able to render to the nation in the act of setting the artist about his appropriate work, and, broadly speaking, the hindrance which the other opposed to his individual development—could nowhere go unnoticed, and least of all could go unnoticed in a land like ours, too full of a dull pride in laissez faire, in private enterprise, in Government inaction. To the initiative of the Imperial Government, as Mr. Hamerton well pointed out when he was appreciating Jacquemart as long as twelve years ago, was due the undertaking by the artist of the colossal task, by the fulfilment of which he secured his fame. Moreover, if the Imperial Government 18had not been there to do this thing, this thing would never have been done, and some of the noblest and most intricate objects of Art in the possession of the State would have gone unrecorded—their beauty unknown and undiffused. Even as it is, though the task definitely commissioned was brought to its proper end, a desirable sequel that had been planned remained untouched. The hand that recorded the ordered grace of Renaissance ornament would have shown as well as any the intentions of more modern craftsmen—the decoration of the Eighteenth Century in France, with its light and luxurious elegance.
The Histoire de la Porcelaine, then—begun in 1860, and published in 1862 by Techener, a steady friend of Jacquemart—was followed in 1864 by the Gemmes et Joyaux de la Couronne. The Chalcographie of the Louvre—the department which concerns itself with the issue of commissioned prints—undertook the publication of the Gemmes et Joyaux. In the series there were sixty subjects, or at least sixty plates, for sometimes Jacquemart, seated by his window in the Louvre (which is reflected over and over again at every angle in the lustre of the objects he designed), would etch in one plate the portraits of two treasures, glad to give “value” to the virtues of the one by juxtaposition with the virtues of the other; to oppose, say, the brilliant transparency of the rock-crystal ball to the texture, sombre and velvety, of the vase of ancient sardonyx. Of all these plates M. Louis Gonse has given an account, sufficiently detailed for most people’s purposes, in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts for 1876. The catalogue of Jacquemart’s etchings there contained was a work of industry and of very genuine interest on M. Gonse’s part, and its necessary extent, due to the artist’s own prodigious diligence in work, sufficiently excuses, for the time at least, 19an occasional incompleteness of description, making absolute identification sometimes a difficult matter. The critical appreciation was warm and intelligent, and the student of Jacquemart must always be indebted to Gonse. But for the quite adequate description of work like Jacquemart’s, there was needed not only the French tongue—the tongue of criticism—but a Gautier to use it. Only a critic whose intelligence gave form and definiteness to the impressions of senses preternaturally acute, could have given quite adequate expression to Jacquemart’s dealings with beautiful matter—to his easy revelry of colour and light over lines and contours of selected beauty. Everything that Jacquemart could do in the rendering of beautiful matter, and of its artistic and appropriate ornament, is represented in one or other of the varied subjects of the Gemmes et Joyaux, save only his work with delicate china. And the work represents his strength, and hardly ever betrays his weakness. He was never a thoroughly trained academical draughtsman. A large and detailed treatment of the nude figure—any further treatment of it than that required for the beautiful suggestion of it as it occurs on Renaissance mirror-frames or in Renaissance porcelains—might have found him deficient. He had a wonderful feeling for the unbroken flow of its line, for its suppleness, for the figure’s harmonious movement. Perhaps he was not the master of its most intricate anatomy; but, on the scale on which he had to treat it, his suggestion was faultless. By the brief shorthand of his art in this matter, we are brought back to the old formula of praise. Here, indeed, if anywhere—Il n’y a rien, et il y a tout.
And as nothing in his etchings is more adroit than his treatment of the figure, so nothing is more delightful, and, as it were, unexpected. He feels the intricate unity of its curve and flow, how it 20gives value by its happy accidents of line to the fixed and invariable ornament of Renaissance decoration—an ornament as orderly as well-observed verse, with its settled form, its repetition, its refrain. I will mention two or three instances which seem the most notable. One of them occurs in the drawing of a Renaissance mirror—Miroir Français du Seizième Siècle—elaborately carved, but its chief grace, after all, is in its fine proportions; not so much in the perfection of the ornament as in the perfect disposition of it. The absolutely satisfactory filling of a given space with the enrichments of design, the occupation of the space without the crowding of it—for that is what is meant by the perfect disposition of ornament—has always been the problem for the decorative artist. Recent fashion has insisted, quite sufficiently, that it has been best solved by the Japanese; and they indeed have solved it, and sometimes with a singular economy of means, suggesting rather than achieving the occupation of the space they have worked upon. But the best Renaissance design has solved the problem quite as well, in fashions less arbitrary, with rhythm more pronounced, and yet more subtle, with a precision more exquisite, with a complete comprehension of the value of quietude, of the importance of rest. If it requires “an Athenian tribunal” to understand Ingres and Flaxman, it needs, at all events, some education in beautiful line to understand the art of Renaissance ornament. Such art Jacquemart of course understood absolutely, and against its ordered lines the free play of the nude figure is indicated with touches dainty, faultless, and few. Thus it is, I say, in the Miroir Français du Seizième Siècle. And to the attraction of the figure has been added almost the attraction of landscape and landscape atmosphere in the plate No. 27 of the Gemmes et Joyaux, representing scenes from Ovid, as an artist of the Renaissance 21had pourtrayed them on the delicate liquid surface of cristal de roche. And, not confining our examination wholly to the Gemmes et Joyaux—of which obviously the mirror just spoken of cannot form a part—we observe there or elsewhere in Jacquemart’s work how his treatment of the figure takes constant note of the material in which the first artist, his original, was working. Is it raised porcelain, for instance, or soft ivory, or smooth cold bronze, with its less close and subtle following of the figure’s curves, its certain measure of angularity in limb and trunk, its many facets, with somewhat marked transition from one to the other (instead of the unbroken harmony of the real figure), its occasional flatnesses? If it is this, this is what Jacquemart gives us in his etchings—not the figure only, but the figure as it comes to us through the medium of bronze. See, for instance, the Vénus Marine, lying half extended, with slender legs, long a possession of M. Thiers, I believe. You cannot insist too much on Jacquemart’s mastery over his material—cloisonné, with its many low tones, its delicate patterning outlined by metal ribs; the coarseness of rough wood, as in the Salière de Troyes; the sharp clear sword-blade, as the sword of François Premier, the signet’s flatness and delicate smoothness—C’est le sinet du Roy Sant Louis—and the red porphyry, flaked, as it were, and speckled, of an ancient vase, and the clear soft unctuous green of jade.
And as the material is marvellously varied, so are its combinations curious and wayward. I saw, one autumn, at Lyons, the sombre little church of Ainay, a Christian edifice built of no Gothic stones, but placed, already ages ago, on the site of a Roman temple—the temple used, its dark columns cut across, its black stones rearranged, and so the church completed—Antiquity pressed into the service of 22the Middle Age. Jacquemart, dealing with the precious objects he had to pourtray, came often upon such strange meetings: an antique vase of sardonyx, say, infinitely precious, mounted and altered in the twelfth century for the service of the Mass, and so, beset with gold and jewels, offered by its possessor to the Abbey of Saint Denis.
It was not a literal imitation, it must be said again, that Jacquemart made of these things. These things sat to him for their portraits; he posed them; he composed them aright. Placed by him in their best lights, they revealed their finest qualities. He loved an effective contrast of them, a comely juxtaposition; a legitimate accessory he could not neglect—that window, by which he sat as he worked, flashed its light upon a surface that caught its reflection; in so many different ways the simple expedient helps the task, gives the object roundness, betrays its lustre. Some people bore hardly on him for the colour, warmth, and life he introduced into his etchings. They wanted a colder, a more impersonal, a more precise record. Jacquemart never sacrificed precision when precision was of the essence of the business, but he did not care for it for its own sake. And the thing that his first critics blamed him for doing—the composition of his subject, the rejection of this, the choice of that, the bestowal of fire and life upon matter dead to the common eye—is a thing which artists in all Arts have always done, and will always continue to do, and for this most simple reason, that the doing of it is Art.
Not very long after the Gemmes et Joyaux was issued, as we now have it, the life of Frenchmen was upset by the war. Schemes of work waited or were abandoned; at last men began, as a distinguished Frenchman at that time wrote to me, “to rebuild their existence out of the ruins of the past.” In 1873, Jacquemart, for his part, was at 23work again on his own best work of etching. The Histoire de la Céramique, a companion to the Histoire de la Porcelaine, was published in that year. To an earlier period (to 1868) belong the two exquisite plates of the light porcelain of Valenciennes, executed for Dr. Le Jeal’s monograph on the history of that fabric. And to 1866 belongs an etching already familiarly known to the readers of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts and to possessors of the first edition of Etching and Etchers—the Tripod—a priceless thing of jasper, set in golden carvings by Gouthière, and now lodged among the best treasures of the great house in Manchester Square.
But it is useless to continue further the chronicle of the triumphs that Jacquemart won in the translation, in his own free fashion of black and white, of all sorts of beautiful matter. Moreover, in 1873, the year of the issue of his last important series of plates, Jules Jacquemart, stationed at Vienna, as one of the jury of the International Exhibition there, caught a serious illness, a fever of the typhoid kind, and this left him a delicacy which he could never overcome; and thenceforth his work was limited. Where it was not a weariness, it had to be little but a recreation, a comparative pause. That was the origin of his performances in water colour, undertaken in the South, whither he repaired at each approach of winter. There remains, then, only to speak of these drawings and of such of his etched work as consisted in the popularisation of painted pictures. As a copyist of famous canvasses he found remunerative and sometimes fame-producing labour.
As an interpreter of other men’s pictures, it fell to the lot of Jacquemart, as it generally falls to the lot of professional engravers, to engrave the most different masters. But with so very personal an 24artist as he, the interpretation of so many men, and in so many years, from 1860, or thereabouts, onwards, could not possibly be always of equal value. Once or twice he was very strong in the reproduction of the Dutch portrait painters; but as far as Dutch painting is concerned, he is strongest of all when he interprets, as in one now celebrated etching, Jan van der Meer of Delft. Der Soldat und das lachende Mädchen was one of the most noteworthy pieces in the rich cabinet of M. Léopold Double. The big and somewhat blustering trooper common in Dutch Art, sits here engaging the attention of that pointed-faced, subtle, but vivacious maiden peculiar to Van der Meer. Behind the two, who are occupied in contented gazing and contented talk, is the bare sunlit wall, spread only with its map or chart—the Dutchman made his wall as instructive as Joseph Surface made his screen—and by the side of the couple, throwing its brilliant, yet modulated light on the woman’s face and on the background, is the intricately patterned window, the airy lattice. Rarely was a master’s subject or a master’s method better interpreted than in this print. Frans Hals once or twice is just as characteristically rendered. But with these exceptions it is Jacquemart’s own fellow-countrymen whom he renders the best. Seldom was finish so free from pettiness or the evidence of effort as it is in the Défilé des populations lorraines devant l’Impératrice à Nancy. Le Liseur is even finer—Meissonier again; this time a solitary figure, with bright, soft light from window at the side, as in the Van der Meer of Delft. The suppleness of Jacquemart’s talent—the happy speed of it, rather than its patient elaboration—is shown by his renderings of Greuze, the Rêve d’amour, a single head, and L’Orage, a sketchy picture of a young and frightened mother kneeling by her child exposed to the storm. Greuze, with his cajoling 25art—which, if one likes, one must like without respecting—is entirely there. So, too, Fragonard, the whole ardent and voluptuous soul of him, in Le Premier Baiser. Labour it is possible to give in much greater abundance; but intelligence in interpretation cannot go any further or do anything more.
Between the etchings of Jacquemart and his water-colour drawings there is little affinity. The subjects of the one hardly ever recall the subjects of the other. The etchings and the water colours have but one thing in common—an extraordinary lightness of hand. Once, however, the theme is the same. Jacquemart etched some compositions of flowers; M. Gonse has praised them very highly: to me, elegant as they are, fragile of substance and dainty of arrangement, they seem inferior to that last-century flower-piece which we English are fortunate enough to know through the exquisite mezzotint of Earlom. But in the occasional water-colour painting of flowers—especially in the decorative disposition of them over a surface for ornament—Jacquemart is not easily surpassed; the lightness and suggestiveness of the work are almost equal to Fantin’s. A painted fan by Jacquemart, which is retained by M. Petit, the dealer, is dexterous, yet simple in the highest degree. The theme is a bough of the apple-tree, where the blossom is pink, white, whiter, then whitest against the air at the branch’s end.
But generally his water colour is of landscape, and a record of the South. Perhaps it is the sunlit and flower-bearing coast, his own refuge in winter weather. Perhaps, as in a drawing of M. May’s, it is the mountains behind Mentone—their conformation, colours, and tones, and their thin wreaths of mist—a drawing which M. May, himself an habitual mountaineer in those regions, assures 26me is of the most absolute truth. Or, perhaps, as in another drawing in the same collection, it is a view of Marseilles; sketchy at first sight, yet with nothing unachieved that might have helped the effect; not the Marseilles, sunny and brilliant, parched and southern, of most men’s observation—the Marseilles even of the great observer, the Marseilles of Little Dorrit—but the busy port, with its ever-shifting life, under an effect less known; the Marseilles of an overcast morning: all its houses, its shipping and its quays, grey or green and steel-coloured. Such a work is a masterpiece, with the great quality of a masterpiece, that you cannot quickly exhaust the restrained wealth of its learned simplicity. To speak about it one technical word, we may say that while it belongs by its frank sketchiness to the earlier order of water-colour art, an art of rapid effect, as practised best by Dewint and David Cox, it belongs to the later order—to contemporary art—by its unhesitating employment of body colour.
The true source of the diversity of Jacquemart’s efforts, which I have now made apparent, is perhaps to be found in a vivacity of intellect, a continual alertness to receive all passing impressions. That alone makes a variety of interests easy and even necessary. That pushes men to express themselves in art of every kind, and to be collectors as well as artists, to possess as well as to create. Jacquemart inherited the passion of a collector; it was a queer thing that he set himself to collect. He was a collector of shoe-leather; foot-gear of every sort and of every time. His father, Albert Jacquemart, had held that to know the pottery of a nation was to know its history. Jules saw many histories, of life and travel, and the aims of travel, in the curious objects of his collection. Their ugliness—what would be 27to most of us the extreme distastefulness of them—did not repel him. Nor were his attentions devoted chiefly to the dainty slippers of a dancer—souvenirs, at all events, of the art of the ballet, very saleable at fancy fairs of the theatrical profession. He etched his own boots, tumbled out of the worst cupboard in the house. He looked at them with affection—souvenirs de voyage. The harmless eccentricity brings down, for a moment, to very ordinary levels, this watchful and exquisite artist, so devoted generally to high beauty, so keen to see it.
What more would he have done had the forty-three years been greatly prolonged, a spell of life for further work accorded, Hezekiah-like, to a busy labourer upon whom Death had laid its first warning hand? We cannot answer the question, but it must have been much, so variously active was his talent, so fertile his resource. As it is, what may he hope to live by, now that the most invariably fatal of all forms of consumption, the most fatal while the least suspected, la phthisie laryngée, has arrested his effort? A very gifted, a singularly agile and supple translator of painters’ work, he may surely be allowed to be, and a water-colour artist, perfectly individual, yet hardly actually great; his strange dexterity of hand at the service of fact, not at the service of imagination. He recorded nature; he did not exalt or interpret it. But he interpreted Art. He was alive, more than any one has been alive before, to all the wonders that have been wrought in the world by the hands of artistic men.
Years ago James Whistler was a person of high promise: he has since been an artist often of agreeable and exquisite, though sometimes of incomplete and apparently wayward, performance. He has the misfortune to have been greatly known to a large public as the painter of his least desirable works, these having reached an easy notoriety, while the others have thus far too much escaped a general fame. Much of Mr. Whistler’s art has the interest of originality, and some of it the charm of beauty; and yet the measure of originality has at times been over-rated, through the innocent error of the budding amateur, who, in the earlier stage of his enlightenment, confuses the beginning with the end, accepts the intention for the adequate fulfilment, and exalts an adroit sketch into the rank of a permanent picture. Mr. Irving as Philip of Spain—three years ago at the Grosvenor—was a murky caricature of Velasquez; the master’s sketchiness remained, but his decisiveness was wanting. And in some of the Nocturnes the absence, not only of definition, but of gradation, would point to the conclusion that they are but engaging sketches. In them we look in vain for all the delicate differences of light and hue which the scenes depicted present. Like the landscape art of Japan, they are harmonious decorations, and a dozen or so of such engaging 29sketches placed in the upper panels of a lofty apartment would afford a justifiable and welcome alternative even to noble tapestries or Morris wall-papers. But, on the large scale on which they are painted—a scale in which their well-considered sketchiness is carefully emphasized—it is in vain that we endeavour to receive them as cabinet pictures. They suffer curiously when placed against work not of course of petty and mechanical finish, but of patient achievement. But they have merits of their own; nor are their merits too common. So short a way have they proceeded into the complications of colour, that they avoid the incompatible: they avoid it cleverly; they say little to the mind, but they are restful to the eye, in their agreeable simplicity and limited suggestiveness. They are the record of impressions. So far as they go, they are right; nay, in one sense they are better than right, for they are charming.
And, moreover, there is evidence enough elsewhere that Mr. Whistler, confined to colour alone, can produce more various and more intricate harmonies than those of a Nocturne in silver and blue, than those of a scherzo in blue, or than those even in that fascinating portrait of Mrs. Meux, in which it was not so much the face as the figure and the movement that came to be deftly suggested, if hardly elaborately expressed. A great apartment in the house of Mr. Leyland, which Mr. Whistler has decorated, has shown that a long and concentrated effort at the solution of the problems of colour is not beyond the scope of an artist who has rarely mastered the subtleties of the intricate human form. It has shown, moreover, that his solution of such problems can be strikingly original. As a decorative painter—as a painter of large or brilliant sketches—Mr. Whistler has had few superiors in any time or land. His skill is sometimes genius here. 30Why, in the Grosvenor Gallery, the very year in which the irrepressible painter proffered the most unwelcome of his Nocturnes, there was a quite delightful picture, suggested, indeed, by Japanese Art, but itself not less subtle than the art which prompted it—A Variation in Flesh-colour and Green—bare-armed damsels of the farthest East, lounging in attitudes of agreeable abandonment in some balcony or court open to the genial sunlight and to the soft air. The damsels—they were not altogether meritorious. The draughtsmanship displayed in them was anything but “searching.” But the picture had a quality of cool refreshment such as the gentle colour and clean-shining material of Luca della Robbia affords to the beholder of Tuscan Art, as he comes upon Tuscan Art under Tuscan skies.
The interest of life—the interest of humanity—has confessedly occupied Mr. Whistler but little; yet in spite of his devotion to the art qualities of the peacock, it has not been given to him to be quite indifferent to the race to which he belongs. His portraits, sometimes, whatever may be his theories, have not been very obviously considered as arrangements of colour only for colour’s sake. They may even have profited by the adoption of hues such as suited their themes, and here Mr. Whistler may have delivered, through his language of colour, a message which some men would have intrusted to line alone. Anyhow he has been able to paint with admirable expressiveness a portrait of his mother, and to have recorded on a doleful canvas the head and figure of Carlyle, and in both, the simplicity and veracity of effect are things to be noted. Not indeed that the pictures are without mannerism: the straight and stiffish disposition of the lines in the first is not so much a merit as a peculiarity. But a certain dignified quietude and a certain reticent pathos are apparent in the portrait of the lady, 31and the rugged simplicity of Carlyle—a simplicity which his own generation received with so naive an admiration—is suggested not only with skill of hand, but with the mental skill that discovers quickly, in presence of a subject, wherein lies the best opportunity for high success in treating it.
But I take it to be admitted by those who do not conclude that the art is necessarily great which has the misfortune to be unacceptable, that it is not by his paintings so much as by his etchings that Mr. Whistler’s name may aspire to live. In painting, his success is infrequent and it is limited—though when it occurs, its very peculiarity gives us a keen relish for it—in etching, it is neither limited nor rare, though of course it is not uninterrupted nor unbroken. In painting, Mr. Whistler is an impressionist—he is an impressionist in etching, but etching permits the record of the impression only, while painting demands at all events the occasional capacity to realise with weeks of labour what a few hours might happily enough suggest. Moreover—and the circumstance is odd and noteworthy—it is in his etchings that Mr. Whistler has reached realisation the best, and he has reached it, in the earlier Thames-side work of twenty years ago, with no sacrifice whatever of freedom and of frankness in treatment. His best painting betrays something of that exquisite sensitiveness, that almost modern sensitiveness, to pleasurable juxtapositions of delicate colour which we admire in Orchardson, in Linton, and in Albert Moore; it betrays sometimes, as in a portrait of Miss Alexander, a deftness of brushwork, in the wave of a feather, in the curve of a hat, that recalls for a moment even the great names of Velasquez and of Gainsborough; and of high art qualities it betrays not much besides—though these, which are very rare, we are properly grateful for. But the etchings—that 32is indeed another matter. They must be considered in detail. No criticism is wasted that concerns itself carefully with them, and that points out from the many, which are fair, and which are exquisite, and which are flagrantly offensive.
In some of his prints, Mr. Whistler makes good a claim to live by the side of the finest masters of the etching needle, and a familiarity with Rembrandt and with Méryon increases rather than lessens our interest in the American of to-day. But Mr. Whistler has etched too much for his reputation, or at least has published too much. No one who can look at work of Art fairly, demands that it shall be faultless; least of all can that be demanded of work of which the very virtue lies sometimes in its spontaneousness; but one has good reason to demand that the faults shall not outweigh the merits. Now in some of Mr. Whistler’s figure-pieces, executed with the etching-needle, and offered to the public indiscreetly, the commonness and vulgarity of the person pourtrayed find no apology in perfection of pourtrayal—the design is uncouth, the drawing is intolerable, the light and shade an affair of a moment’s impressiveness, with no subtlety of truth to hold the interest that is at first aroused. See, as one instance, the etching numbered 3 in Mr. Thomas’s published catalogue—notice the size of the hands. And see again No. 56, in which the figure is one vast black triangle, in which there is apparently not a single quality which work of Art should have. The portraits of Becquet, the violoncello player, of one Mann, and of one Davis, have character, with no mannerism, but with a good simplicity of treatment. But neither face pourtrayed, nor Art pourtraying it, is of a kind to command a prolonged enjoyment. On the other hand, in some of the etchings or dry points, not, it seems, included in the catalogue, and in the refined and sensitive little etching 33of Fanny Leyland there is apparent a distinct feeling for grace of contour—for the undulations of the figure and its softness of modelling. These are but the briefest sketches—they have a quality of their own. It is not ungenerous to suggest that carried further they might have failed. For the true genius of etching is in them as they are. As they are they have not failed.
Many have been the themes which, in the art of the aquafortist, Mr. Whistler has essayed. He has essayed landscape; he has drawn a tree in Kensington Gardens, and a tree in the foreground of the Isle St. Louis, Paris; but that tree at least seems of no known form of vegetable growth—it has the air of an exploding shell. Here and there—occupied with those juxtapositions of light and shade which fascinated the masters of Holland—Mr. Whistler has drawn interiors, and in one of his interiors we note a success second only to the very highest these Dutchmen attained. This is the interior described as The Kitchen. Only the finest, the most carefully printed impressions possess the full charm; but when such an impression presents itself to the eye, the Dutch masters, who have followed most keenly the glow and the gradation of light on chamber-walls, are seen to be almost rivalled. The kitchen is a long and narrow room, at the far end of which, away from the window and the keen light, stand artist and spectator. Farthest of all from them the light vine leaves are touched in with a grace that Adrian van Ostade—a master in this matter—would not have excelled. By the embrasure of the window, just before the great thickness of the wall, stands a woman, angular, uncomely, of homely build, busied with “household chares.” In front of her comes the sharp sunlight, striking the thick wall-side, and lessening as it advances into the shadow and gloom of the humble 34room; wavering timidly on the plates of the dresser, in creeping half gleams which reveal and yet conceal the objects they fall upon. The meaningless scratch and scrawl of the bare floor in the foreground is the only fault that at all seriously tells against the charm of work otherwise beautiful and of keen sensitiveness; and the case is one in which the merit is so much the greater that the fault may well be ignored or its presence permitted. Again, La Vieille aux Loques—a weary woman of humblest fortunes and difficult life—shows, I think, that Mr. Whistler has now and then been inspired by the pathetic masters of Dutch Art.
We have seen already that two things have much occupied Mr. Whistler—the arrangement of colours in their due proportions, the arrangement of light and shade. And the best results of the life-long study which, by his own account, he has given to the arrangement of colour are seen in the work that is purely, or the work that is practically, decorative—the work that escapes the responsibility of a subject. And the best results of the study of the arrangements of light and shade are seen in a dozen etchings, most of which—but not The Kitchen and not the Vieille aux Loques—belong to that series in which the artist has recorded for our curious pleasure the common features of the shores of the Thames. Here also there is evident his feeling, not exactly for beauty, but at all events for quaintness of form, for form that has character. It had occurred to no one else to draw with realistic fidelity the lines of wharf and warehouse along the banks of the river; to note down the pleasant oddities of outline presented by roof and window and crane; to catch the changes of the grey light as it passed over the front of Wapping. Mr. Whistler’s figure-drawing, generally defective and always incomplete, 35has prevented him from seizing every characteristic of the sailor-figures that people the port. The absence, seemingly, of any power such as the great marine painters had, of drawing the forms of water, whether in a broad and wind-swept tidal river or on the high seas, has narrowed and limited again the means by which Mr. Whistler has depicted the scenes “below Bridge.” But his treatment of these scenes is none the less original and interesting. By wise omission, he has managed often to retain the sense of the flow of water or its comparative stillness. Its gentle lapping lifts the keels of the now emptied boats of his Billingsgate. It lies lazy under the dark warehouses of his Free Trade Wharf. It frets and flickers and divides in pleasant light against the woodwork of the bridge in the larger Putney.
The limitations of Mr. Whistler’s art are very conspicuous in a more recent experiment than the original Thames-side series—the series of Venice. So evident, indeed, are they in that set that the set has been undervalued by many amateurs of taste, who have exacted too much that Mr. Whistler should give them, not what he was best able to see in Venice, but what cultivated readers of Art history have been most accustomed to see there. The Venice series is in the etcher’s later manner—a style in which ever-increasing reliance is placed on the faculty of slight and suggestive sketching. Now etching, even when practised with the greatest possible union of fidelity and freshness, is hardly the appropriate medium for conveying the charm of delicate architecture. Of such architecture Méryon himself only now and then essayed to give the charm, and he essayed it, deliberately, at the cost of abandoning not a little of the etcher’s freedom—he became, for the nonce at least, a “great original engraver;” he took his art beyond its habitual bounds. His triumph justified him. 36But Mr. Whistler, even in his earlier manhood, when those of the Thames etchings which are the fullest of detail were wrought with sureness and precision of hand, never betrayed either the capacity or the will to reproduce the charm of delicate architecture. Yet in an art to which colour is denied, the charm of delicate architecture must be the charm of Venice. It remained, however, for Mr. Whistler to see whether the place had yet some aspects which his etching could record—an impression, not a reproduction: that was all that could be looked for. And Mr. Whistler etched his impressions with curious uncertainty and curious inequality. He was now adroit, now wavering. He took from London to Venice his happy fashion of suggesting lapping water. He looked at Venice as a whole, keenly, delicately, but never in detail—we had bird’s-eye views of it. It had been interesting to wonder what would be the vision granted to a fantastic genius of a fantastic city. Well, little new came of it, in etching—nothing new that was beautiful. Afterwards, in a series of pastels, it became clear who it was that had seen Venice. It was Mr. Whistler the exquisite colourist, not the exquisite etcher.
Mr. Whistler’s fame as an aquafortist, then, rests chiefly still on his Thames-side work; and, even there, less on the faint agreeable sketches done of later years, though these have their charm, like the better of his painted Nocturnes, than on the work of his first maturity. The London Bridge and the Free Trade Wharf and one or two Putneys—one of them is in this book—may be named, however, among the happiest examples of the later art that is specially brief in recording an impression. The spring of the great arch in London Bridge, as seen from below, from the water-side, is rendered, it seems, with a suggestion of power in great constructive work, such as is 37little visible in the tender handling of so many of the prints of the river. The Free Trade Wharf is a very exquisite study of gradations of tone and of the receding line of murky buildings that follows the bend of the stream. It is, in its best printed impressions, a thing of faultless delicacy. A third river-piece, not lately done, has been rather lately retouched—the Billingsgate: Boats at a Mooring. In the retouch is an instance of the successful treatment of a second “state” or even a later “state” of the plate, and such as should be a warning to the collector who buys “first states” of everything—the Liber Studiorum included—and “first states” alone, with dull determination. Of course the true collector knows better: he knows that the impression is almost all, and the “state” next to nothing, except as indicating what is probable as to the condition of the plate, and he must gradually and painfully acquire the eye to judge of the impression.
A few years ago Mr. Whistler retouched his Billingsgate for the proprietors of the Portfolio, and the proof impressions of the state issued by them reach the highest excellence of which the plate has been capable. Not sheltering itself under the extreme simplicity and singleness of aim kept so adroitly in the Free Trade Wharf and in the London Bridge, it falls into faults which these avoid. The ghostliness of the foreground figures demands an ingenious theory for its justification, and this theory no one has advanced. But the solidity of the buildings introduced into this plate—the clock-tower and the houses upon the quay—are a rare achievement in etching. For once the houses are not drawn, but built, like the houses and the churches and the bridges of Méryon. The strength of their realisation lends delicacy to the thin-masted fishing boats with their yet thinner lines of 38cordage, and to the distant bridge in the grey mist of London, and to the faint clouds of the sky. Perhaps yet more delicate than the Billingsgate is the Hungerford Bridge, so small, yet, in a fine proof, so spacious and airy. It lacks substance, of course, and solidity—and so does the impression of landscape in a dream.
Finally, there are the Thames Police, the Tyzack Whiteley, and the Black Lion Wharf. These, which were executed a score of years since, are the most varied and complete studies of quaint places now disappearing—nay, many of them already disappeared—of places with no beauty that is very old or very graceful, but with interest to the every-day Londoner and interest, too, to the artist. Here are small warehouses falling to pieces, or poorly propped even when they were sketched, and vanished now to make room for a vaster and duller uniformity of storehouse front. Here are narrow dwelling-houses of our Georgian days, with here a timber facing and there a quaint bow window, many-paned—narrow houses of sea-captains, or the riverside tradesfolk, or of custom-house officials, the upper classes of the Docks and the East-end. These too have been pressed out of the way by the aggressions of great commerce, and the varied line that they presented has ceased to be. Of all these riverside features, Thames Police is an illustration interesting to-day and valuable to-morrow. And Black Lion Wharf is yet fuller of happy accident of outline and happy gradation of tone, studied amongst common things which escape the common eye.
It is a pleasure to possess such faithful and spirited records of a departing quaintness, and it is an achievement to have made them. It would be a pity to remove the grace from the achievement by insisting that, as in Nocturne and Arrangement, the art was burdened 39by a here unnecessary theory; that the study of the “arrangement of line and form” was all, and the interest of the association nothing. When Dickens was tracing the fortunes of Quilp on Tower Hill, and on that dreary night when the little monster fell from the wharf into the river, he did not think only of the cadence of his sentences, or his work would never have lived, or lived only with the lovers of curious patchwork of mere words. Perhaps, without his knowing it, some slight imaginative interest in the lives of Londoners prompted Mr. Whistler, or strengthened his hand, as he recorded the shabbiness that has a history, the slums of the eastern suburb, and the prosaic service of the Thames. Here, and often elsewhere, his work, if it has shown some faults to be forgiven, has shown, in excellence, qualities that fascinate. The Future will forget his failures, to which in the Present there has somehow been accorded, through the activity of friendship or the activity of enmity, a publicity rarely bestowed upon failures at all; but it will remember the success of work that is peculiar and personal. These best things we have dwelt upon are not to be denied that length of days which is the portion of exquisite Art.
Any generation since the brilliant times of Art—since the sixteenth century in Italy, the seventeenth in Holland, the eighteenth in England and in France—has had to deem itself fortunate if it has produced three or four artists of individuality united with large attainment; and it is much to be surmised that no generation will have greater cause than our own to think it has done well if it has produced even as many. Notorieties of the moment may always be counted by the score, but fame remains so rarely for the most popular, that the serious student of the work of a master in any art has no reason to question his own judgment when it points him to admiration, merely because the object of his admiration is not to be counted among the immediate successes of the hour. Legros is not an immediate success. He has worked for five-and-twenty years, and there are intelligent people who see little in his pictures beyond their first ugliness. Each to his taste—we cannot always blame them; and Legros has been ugly sometimes gratuitously, sometimes with wantonness. But Legros is also a very grave and enduring master, whose work is now full of mistake, and now of power, and now again is certainly touched with that higher and keener faculty we call inspiration.
The etchings of Legros range already, however, over a period of 41seven-and-twenty years; and that he began so young, and at a time when etching was not popular and the art had not become a trade, is a proof at least of the spontaneity of his pursuit of it. By temperament and instinct he was as much etcher as painter, perhaps even more. The process of etching being—always in skilled hands, of course—perhaps the readiest for the rendering of impressions and the expression of artistic thought, it is natural that Legros, whose art, whatever it may lack in immediate attractiveness, is one undoubtedly of impressions and of thoughts, should have turned to this process. And so well, indeed, has he increased his command of it—always with reference to his own particular business, to the order of impressions it is his own task to convey—that, though there are, indeed, several of his paintings which have the qualities of a master’s work, we get the best of him in his etchings. Great is the technical progress he has made in these since some of the first plates catalogued so well by M. Poulet-Malassis and Mr. Thibaudeau, but it is not to be imagined that the progress has been uninterrupted. Incompleteness and uncertainty are still likely to be visible. His execution, skilful at one time, and entirely responsive to his desire, is at another time halting, wayward, insufficiently controlled and directed. Therefore, though, as I say, the execution is not seldom excellent—economical of means and yet rich in the possession of various means—it would rarely be in itself the occasion of attracting notice to his work. With Legros, it is the conception that dominates. The conception is often such as recalls the highest achievements of Art.
But the imagination of Legros, in virtue of which, quite as much as by occasional mannerisms of handling, he recalls that older and more pregnant Art which has well nigh passed from the very ken of 42the producers of our own day’s trivial array, is not in any sense derived from this or that past master; it is charged, on the contrary, in his most considerable pieces with a serious and pathetic poetry quite his own. Here and there, indeed, as in one early work—Procession dans les Caveaux de Saint-Médard—it is not imagination at all, as that is generally understood, but the keen observation of an artist content to reproduce, that alone is remarkable; and here there is a certain amount of audacity in the fidelity with which he has rendered the commonplace, the mean, the narrow faces of a certain section of the Parisian lower bourgeoisie engaged in devotions which there is no beauty of form or of thought to make interesting to the beholder. It is a piece of pure realism—the hideous flounces and more hideous crinolines, the squat figures, the slop-shop fashions, the common faces empty of records. And in this pure and unrelieved realism there is a certain value, if there is no charm. But the pieces to which Legros will owe such fame as the better-judging connoisseurs and critics shall eventually accord him are those in which the artistic instinct and desire of beauty, either of form or of thought, has found some expression. It will be in part by such masculine, yet refined and graceful, portraits as those of M. Dalou and Mr. Poynter, such subtle ones as that of Cardinal Manning, such pathetic ones as that of M. Rodin here, that Legros will stand high. It will be in part by the etchings in which the pourtrayal of actual life has been guided by the research for beauty, as, for instance, in the Chœur d’une Eglise Espagnole, where not only is the head firm and dignified and the lighting more intricate than is usual with this master, but where the composition of bent figure and curved violoncello is of great repose 43and refinement of beauty. A more various specimen of the same type is to be found in a fine impression of Les Chantres Espagnols. They are eight in the choir of a church—four sit in the stalls, the others stand, of whom one turns the page of a missal placed on a lectern. The scene is mostly dark—mostly even very dark—but the light, by a very skilled treatment of it, falls here and there on lectern, missal, and hand of the old man sitting in the choir. The observation of reality in this plate has been at the same time keen and poetical, for nothing can be truer and nothing more impressive than the study of old faces out of which so much of the desire of life has gone, and the study of gestures which are those of hand and will waxing feeble. Two men, at least, are placed together in a pathetic harmony of weakness: the drooping hand of one and his drooped head, as he sits in his long-accustomed place; the open mouth of the other—his mouth opened with the feebleness of a decayed intelligence, with the slow understandings of a departing mind. Or, not to insist too much on a picturesqueness in which pathos predominates, notice, when the occasion presents itself, the first rendering of the subject known as the Lutrin, with its acolyte of rare youthful dignity; or as an example of work in which some little beauty of modelling has been sought to be united even with every-day realism, see the design of the bare knee in L’Enfant Prodigue.
But where Legros is most apart and alone is, after all, in the subjects which owe most to the imagination, and of these the very finest are La Mort du Vagabond, La Mort et le Bûcheron, and Le Savant endormi. Something of the art that gives interest to these pieces is contained in the careful persistence with which the etcher brings the realism of physical ugliness into close contact and contrast with the 44spiritual and supernatural. A comely and well-to-do youth slumbering in his chair at the Marlborough could have no dreams an artist of Legros’s nature would think worthy of recording, but the ugly votary of science and intellectual speculation, who sleeps, from sheer weariness, in the armchair before which are still the implements of his study and research, has the dignity of strained endeavour; and M. Legros, in pourtraying him and suggesting the subjects of his dream, has reached an elevation which separates him from most of his contemporaries, by as much as the Melancholia of Dürer is separated from the Melancholia of Beham. La Mort du Vagabond is not a whit less suggestive in its contrast between the feebleness of the worn-out beggar now stretched out lonely on the pathside—his head raised, gasping, and his hat knocked away—and the force and fury of the storm that beats over dead tree and desolate common. The unity of tragic impression in homely life, preserved in this plate, will give it a permanent value among the great things of Art. La Mort et le Bûcheron is more tender, not more nor less poetical, but less weird; and nothing short of a high and vigorous imagination could have saved from chance of ridicule, in days in which the symbolical has long ceased to be an habitual channel of expression, this etching of the veiled skeleton of Death appearing to the old man still busy with his field-work, and beckoning him gently, while he, with simple and ignorant yet not insensitive face, touched with awe and surprise, looks up under a sudden spell it is vain to hope to cast off, since for him, however unexpectedly, the hour has plainly come. Of this very fascinating subject, there exist impressions from two different plates: one of the plates, and in some respects the better and more pathetic one—the one in which the figure of Death is gentler and more persuasive, and in which the 45face of the woodman is the more mildly expressive—having suffered an accident after only about a dozen impressions had been taken from it. The second was then executed, with something less at first than the success of the earlier one, so that the almost unique and very rare impressions of the plate—whatever may chance to be their money value—represent it to the least advantage. It was retouched and retouched, and at length with more of reward for the trouble than Legros has generally been able to meet with when laboriously modifying his work in the attempt to realise his conception more fully; until at last the enterprising management of L’Art was enabled to offer its readers for about three shillings a work of art not rare, indeed, but of exquisite beauty. The success of the first plate, which the acid had covered in a moment of neglect, had been almost refound.
A final word about the landscapes. As a painter of landscape M. Legros is little known, but there exist, I believe, in London one or two considerable collections of water colours which exhibit almost exclusively his art in landscape. As far as the etchings show it at all, it is of the most account when it is called in for the accompaniment of one of those impressive and doleful ditties I have just been speaking of. Sometimes, however, it is good without this mission and significance, as in the Pécheur, where a delicate effect of early morning is given with exquisite refinement. But at other times, in which the artist is dealing with landscape charged for him with no especial meaning, his very observation of it seems to have been lacking in interest and acuteness, as in the broad slope of grass by the stream-side in his big print Les Bûcherons—a whole surface of ground that is treated mechanically and without any worthy apprehension. And yet this print, despite certain unpleasantness, contains in the heads of the 46woodcutters some of his finest work. A much more sketchy subject, Paysage aux Meules, has greater unity of impression. Like a good deal of Legros’s landscape, it is distinctively French, this particular glimpse of field and farm and rounded hill reminding one of the wide-stretching uplands of the Haut Boulognais. Other landscapes are of England. Others, again, are neither of England nor of France, nor of any land which may be read of in the guide-book or visited by the enterprising tourist, but of that land alone that rises in the imagination of artistic men.
|A By-road in Tipperary||6||6||0|
|A Water Meadow||4||4||0|
|A Cottage Window||2||12||6|
|Breaking up of the Agamemnon. First State £7 7 0 Second State||5||5||0|
|Brig at Anchor||3||3||0|
|Cottages behind Horsley’s House||3||3||0|
|Calais Pier. Second State||21||0||0|
|Early Morning—Richmond Park||2||12||6|
|House of the Smith||2||12||6|
|Hic Terminus Hæret||1||11||6|
|Horsley’s House at Willesley||4||4||0|
|Kensington Gardens. The Large Plate £2 12 6 Small Plate||3||3||0|
|Newcastle in Emlyn||2||12||6|
|Out of Study Window||2||2||0|
|On the Test. First State||5||5||0|
|Ruins in Wales||1||11||6|
|Sunset on the Thames. First State £3 3 0 Second State||3||3||0|
|Sketch on Back of Zinc Plate||1||11||6|
|Sunset in Ireland||4||4||0|
|Study of Stems||1||11||6|
|The Mill-Wheel. First State £3 3 0 Second State||3||3||0|
|Thomas Haden of Derby||2||2||0|
|The Two Sheep||1||11||6|
|The Holly Field||1||1||0|
|Towing-Path. First State £4 4 0 Second State||4||4||0|
|The Three Sisters||4||4||0|
|The Inn at Sawley. (Unfinished)||4||4||0|
|The Grande Chartreuse. (From Drawing by Turner)||2||2||0|
|The Moat House||3||3||0|
|The Two Asses||1||11||6|
|The Turkish Bath, with One Figure||2||12||6|
|The Turkish Bath, with Two Figures||3||3||0|
|Ye Compleate Angler||3||3||0|
|Yacht Tavern, Erith||4||4||0|
|The Volume of “Études”||36||15||0|
VENICE. A Series of Twelve Etchings.
|The Little Venice||£4||4||0|
|The Two Doorways||6||6||0|
|The Little Mast||5||5||0|
|The Little Lagoon||4||4||0|
SIXTEEN THAMES ETCHINGS.
|1. Black Lion Wharf||£1||15||0|
|2. Wapping Wharf||1||11||6|
|3. The Forge||2||2||0|
|4. Old Westminster Bridge||1||5||0|
|6. Old Hungerford||1||11||6|
|7. The Pool||1||11||6|
|8. The Fiddler||1||11||6|
|9. The Limeburners||2||2||0|
|10. The Little Pool||1||5||0|
|11. Eagle Wharf||1||15||0|
|13. Thames Warehouses||1||5||0|
|15. Early Morning (Battersea)||1||1||0|
|16. Chelsea Bridge and Church||0||10||6|
|THE LITTLE LIMEHOUSE. One Hundred Proofs Only||£1||11||6|
|HURLINGHAM. Sixty Artist’s Proofs||£3||3||0|
|FULHAM. Sixty Artist’s Proofs||£3||3||0|
|PUTNEY. Sixty Artist’s Proofs||£3||3||0|
|PUTNEY BRIDGE. Proofs||£6||6||0|
|BATTERSEA BRIDGE. Proofs||£6||6||0|
THE LONELY TOWER. From “Il Penseroso.”
THE HERDSMAN’S COTTAGE (1850). Plate destroyed.
THE BELLMAN. From “Il Penseroso” (1879). Sixty Remarque Proofs (of which few remain unsold) £4 4 0
Plain Impressions 2 2 0
THE SKYLARK (1850). Plate destroyed £4 4 0
CHRISTMAS; or, Folding the Last Sheep. From Bampfylde’s “Sonnet” (1850). A few Fine Proofs £3 3 0
THE WILLOW (1850). Mr. Palmer’s First Etching £0 10 6
THE SLEEPING SHEPHERD. Plate destroyed £4 4 0
EARLY MORNING—Opening the Fold. Remarque Proofs all sold. Artist’s Proofs £2 2 0
THE VINE. Two Subjects on one Plate. Plate destroyed £5 5 0
THE EARLY PLOUGHMAN £2 2 0
THE HERDSMAN. Plate destroyed £6 6 0
THE MORNING OF LIFE. Plate destroyed £5 5 0
THE RISING MOON. Plate destroyed £5 5 0
In addition to these, a large number of examples of Etchings by J. C. Hook, R.A., Rajon, Flameng, Unger, Gaillard, Waltner, Brunet-Debaines, F. Bracquemond, Jacquemart, Chifflart, Daubigny, Le Rat, Veyrassat, Appian, Tissot, Legros, Herkomer, &c., &c.
Note.—The rule of the Society in publishing Books is to make an issue sufficient only to meet the demand at the time of publication. By so doing they find the subscribers are materially benefited, as their books quickly increase in value.
Mr. Ruskin’s Notes on his Turner Drawings. Exhibited at The Fine Art Society’s Galleries, 1878. Illustrated Large-paper Edition, consisting of 750 copies. Published £2 2s. Edition exhausted. A copy sold at Christie’s, in April, 1881, for £4 4s.
The same, small paper, unillustrated, 2s. 6d.
The type of these editions has been distributed.
Mr. Ruskin’s Notes on Samuel Prout and William Hunt. In illustration of a Loan Collection of Drawings exhibited at The Fine Art Society’s Galleries in 1879. Edition nearly exhausted. Large Paper, Illustrated Edition, consisting of 500 copies, £2 2s.
The same, small paper, unillustrated, 2s. 6d.
The type of these editions has been distributed.
Mr. Seymour Haden’s Notes on Etching. In illustration of the Art, and of his Collection of Etchings and Engravings of the Old Masters, exhibited at The Fine Art Society’s Galleries, 1879. Large Paper, Illustrated Edition, limited to 500 copies, £2 2s.
The same, small paper, unillustrated, 1s.
The type of these editions has been distributed.
55J. F. Millet—A Biography by W. E. Henley. Illustrated with Twenty Etchings and Woodcuts, reproduced in facsimile. Large-paper Edition, limited to 500 copies, £1 1s.
Samuel Palmer: A Biography by his Son, Mr. A. H. Palmer. Illustrated with an Original Etching by Samuel Palmer, entitled “Christmas,” and several Autotypes and Wood Engravings. The Edition will be limited to 500 copies. Price 31s. 6d.
[In the Press.
The Year’s Art, 1882. A concise Epitome of all matters relating to Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, which have occurred during the year 1881, in the United Kingdom, together with Information respecting the events of 1882. By Marcus B. Huish. Price 2s. 6d.
Notes by Mr. F. G. Stephens on a Collection of Drawings and Woodcuts by Thomas Bewick. Exhibited at the Fine Art Society’s Rooms, 1880. Large Paper, Illustrated Edition, limited to 300 copies. Published at 21s.; price 31s. 6d. Edition exhausted.
The same, small paper, unillustrated, 1s.
The type of these editions has been distributed.
Memoir and Complete Descriptive Catalogue of the Works of Charles Méryon. By Philip Burty and Marcus B. Huish. 1879. Limited to 125 copies; type distributed. Published at 16s.; price 21s.
2. These Handbooks, together with “John Everett Millais, R.A.,” by Andrew Lang; “Samuel Palmer,” by F. G. Stephens; and “The Sea Painters,” are sold bound in half calf, complete in one Volume, price 10s. 6d.