Tag: fine arts
In the Salon of 1822, Eugene Delacroix ( 1798-1863), exhibited a scene from the Divine Comedy. But there was nothing in this livid vision of Virgil and Dante in Hell very surprising to a public familiar with Caravaggio, and the Raft of the Medusa. It was not until two years later, before the Massacre of Scio, that the critics inveighed against the “massacre of painting”
Delacroix had, in fact, transformed his pictorial language in the interval; inspired by the English landscape painters he had loaded his palette with brilliant colours and illumined Gros’ robust impasto with the glint of Oriental tissues and the marble tints of putrefaction. This time, the work was frankly revolutionary; the young Romanticists rallied round Delacroix, and the struggle against the classical tradition began; no durable school resulted from it, but the consequences were such as to transform the very conception of art.
To these young Romanticists art was not the realisation of an abstract ideal, but the expression of an individual soul, and the more original the artist, the greater the value of his works. He should not fear to manifest his vigorous personality; on the contrary, he should defend it jealously against external influences, against all the forces that, by limiting his personality, tend to obscure his genius.
Romanticism was the revolt of sensitive faculties, hitherto disciplined by the play of definite ideas. Latent and irresponsible forces rose from unconscious depths to reject classical logic. For logic, with its fixed principles, is identical among all men; it has a sort of eternal existence, superior to the minds which successively exercise it; and the Romanticist affects to despise this faculty which makes individuals similar.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, scholars gradually supplanted poets in the general governance of minds. The Romanticist, Victor Hugo or Delacroix, like Narcissus bending over his fountain, only looked at Nature to see the reflection of himself. To him, the universe was but a storehouse of images on which he drew to give colour to his poetry. When these exuberant personalities had sobered down, reality appeared to them, and interested them.
The landscape painters had set the example; following in their wake, painters and sculptors, as well as writers, began to think that absolute exactitude was the true ambition of art; this submission to the object is a scientist’s virtue, and, indeed, Naturalism is the artistic form of the positive spirit.
During this period, the continuity of French life was interrupted by sudden revolutions. Artists were not, of course, unmoved by the agitations which keep us poised, as it were, between revolution and compression; but the convulsions of social fury did not disturb the radiant summits of art.
Architecture, which always expresses the general character of communities clearly, was at once very prolific, and somewhat lacking in originality; this seems to show that the general existence was not so unstable as it seemed to be, and that society had not yet evolved a new form of collective life. These abrupt changes were after all only a question of political régime, a battle of pure theory or of personal interest. Governments, whatever they are, must always have one and the same object, which is to aid in the increase of riches.
The conflicting movements which agitated superficial France must not be allowed to hide that deep current, the slow pressure of which nothing can resist. Every day, a rather larger number of men achieve a little ease, or in other words, a relative prosperity and an average intellectual culture. This was the great social event of the nineteenth century, and modern art was to manifest this indefinite enfranchisement of the middle classes after its fashion.
Gaul, as a whole, began to participate in antique civilisation under the Roman rule. A highly centralised administration united the provinces which extended from the Rhine to the Pyrenees, from the ocean to the Alps, imposing a common existence and a common culture upon them.
When one travels along a Roman road it is very easy to understand how the dwellers in these regions were sensible of a distant solidarity. Their roads, even when disused, are not obliterated; they still indicate the ancient route across fields. Stretching in purposeful rigidity from point to point, regardless of mountains and valleys, they bore the legions to the frontier, and carried the will of Rome into the interior.
Every halting-place along them was the nucleus of a future city of France. At the cross-roads we shall find the active centres of Roman art. A network of more natural and less geometrical highways, corresponding to the local geology, was related to this vast system of main roads. And yet the extremities, from Arles to Cologne, from Lyons to Saintes, felt that they were members of one body. Thus the solid causeways, built for eternity, were the channels of human intercourse during the Middle Ages; they transported pilgrims and merchants to sanctuaries and fairs respectively. From Burgundy to Provence, from Tours to Roncevaux, they maintained uninterrupted communication, even when these provinces were no longer united by Roman centralisation.
The conquerors brought their Latin habits with them; buildings akin to those of Italy rose in the cities where they established themselves; an official art, easily imposed on a country innocent of architecture, and immune from all local influence, manifested its identity at Narbonne, Bordeaux, and Reims: it was an urban and utilitarian art, created for the enjoyment of great cities. After the decay of Marseilles, Narbonne and Fréjus rose to importance, and close at hand, Orange and Nîmes, whose ancient monuments are among the finest in the world.
Arles, the Rome of Gaul, began her glorious existence as a capital, a city of luxury, art, and pleasure. But this municipal clvilisation soon outgrew Provence. Municipalities raised triumphal arches dedicated to emperors; Trèves, Reims, Besançon, Langres and Saintes have preserved these proud structures. Towns of second and third rate importance had their amphitheatres; the more wealthy among them boasted thermae. Temples were no doubt numerous; they disappeared to furnish columns for the new basilicas of youthful Christianity.
Around the great cities rose the rich villas of the Gallic aristocracy, and beyond these a vague population, the Pagani, long recalcitrant to Latinism and subsequently to Christianity. Roman culture had penetrated only into the towns; but monkish hosts ploughed the fallows of the countryside; after the municipal art of the Gallo- Romans came the rural art of the Romanesque epoch.
None of the colourists of Manet’s generation made men forget the colourist Delacroix; everything, or nearly everything, that tends to their glory increases his fame; he was their god. Delacroix’ colour had come too early for the weakness of humanity.
When the trappings of Romanticism were cleared away, his palette was thrown aside as one of its accessories. After the strong and healthy recognition of reality by the great landscape school of 1830 and the realism of the school of Courbet, painters were impelled to get at a right distance from Nature; this was the logical way between the two manifestations that had come to an end.
As soon as it was consciously recognised, the method of Daumier and of Delacroix was necessarily decisive. Why this way is modern, and why it achieves results which respond to vital and weighty needs, I hope at least to indicate in due course. The consciousness of this is a piece of modern culture. It is rooted in the postulate that Manet and his circle gave us not Nature, but the natural, and that all naturalisation of our instincts, i.e., all sharpening, purification, and amelioration, is modern.
Every joy is progress, and so therefore was Manet’s achievement. That achievement and its results had never occurred even to the magician Rubens, and, going through the whole history of art, we may find something similar, but never quite the same decisive consciousness. There are other values, the perfection of which put us to the blush, but in spite of this we would not exchange for them our own, the resplendent symbol of our best aspirations, our happiness, our epoch.
Manet discovered, to the horrified amazement of the world, that a fine feminine skin is neither yellow nor brown, but luminously white in the light, especially in juxtaposition to dark colours, and that blood pulses, that nerves and senses throb beneath it.
Millet painted the repose of life, and found greatness therein; he transmitted to the simple action he represented a very great and very simple thought, which was expressed in like terms by all his washerwomen, mothers, housewives, and workmen of various kinds, and finally carried conviction by constant repetition of the one sound in so many different forms. It was a generalisation that became the more impressive, the more deliberately it was set forth. In comparison, the realists were clumsy folk, more modest than Millet, for they allowed Nature to think for herself, more presumptuous and more limited, for they expounded what seemed to them the thoughts of Nature in their own narrow fashion.