Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub
[subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]

resemble theirs; he seems to be gnawing his bagpipe. If the general pose and setting were derived from Titian's pastoral scene. a new and subtle imagination presses forth out of this engraving, not only absent from the Italian master's study, but undreamed of by him. The "Wise Men" abounds in that mysticism already spoken of as present in a fragment of the painter's pure landscape. The full worth of its archaic simplicity, united with a peculiar historic reach of insight, becomes manifest on a comparison with the riotous scriptural representations of Doré, or the dry, methodical renderings of the same subjects by Bida This cut from La Farge, to be sure, is a small affair, but the true note appropriate to modern art does not depend on size; and that note, I think, he has struck. In the embodiment of a religious story to-day, a man needs to give us some hint of a memory going back to these incidents, and recalling the very appearance of them, as if we had ourselves taken part. The special depiction of the magi making their journey in the wake of the star, which we refer to now, would have been discarded by a religious painter of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, even if he had thought of it, as being too exclusively picturesque and wanting in traditional formality. It is picturesque; but there is about it a weight of suspense, a refined spirituality, an intimation of onwardness, which is in some sort better than the fifteenth-century version-more convincing, at least, to a mind of to-day. Of other wood-drawings. Mr. La Farge once projected a complete set to accompany the poems of Robert Browning. He made (with other drawings) a graceful title-page and a noble design | for "Protus"; but ill-health and other engagements have robbed us of the complete

[graphic]

series.

We have been discussing, possibly with a seriousness that may seem disproportionate, works on a small scale, but they bear all the indications of a genius which has recently begun to receive due recognition through its larger achievements. In the last of the "Songs from the Old Dramatists" series of designs, ushering in the songs of fairies, we get one of the happiest examples of a poetic union between the life of a human figure and that of nature. The drawing embraces a small area of watersurface, on which pond-lilies are blooming. this liquid stretch extending in perspective quite to the top of the picture. Just behind

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][graphic][merged small]

this is suggested by that unique attitude and that throbbing motion of the figure. This is not the only thing to be remarked. Although the whole is in black and white, one gets a rich impression of color from it: the water seems to take a green reflection from the flower-sepals; broken lights from the white bloom quiver all through it; and almost the sensitive gold of the stamens at the heart of the lily becomes visible In looking at the fairy herself, I find that she appears to be dressed in green and white

underlying chord in all that Mr. La Farge has done. It may be felt keenly in his "Centaur" (owned by Professor Gurney, of Cambridge). I do not believe the centaur conception has ever been more intimately grasped and carried out in a work of art, since the day of the Greeks, than in this little canvas. It has much of the poetic insight of Maurice de Guérin's prose poem "The Centaur," which may possibly have suggested it. This living, powerful form galloping over the ground might be Chiron:

DESIGN FOR WINDOW FOR HARVARD. (SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.)

66

Wandering along at my own will like the rivers, whether in the bed of the valleys or on the height of the mountains, I bounded whither I would, like a blind and chainless life."

Here, as elsewhere, Mr. La Farge displays a gift for translating the aspects of unconscious nature into some higher, conscious meaning, through a wonderful harmony between the figure and its surroundings. At his best, this is not accomplished by any awkward, forced, or fanciful resemblance; he preserves the magic of the landscape intact, though the analytic bent sometimes leads him to make attempts which do not completely repay the effort. He occasionally forces upon a landscape an interest of figures which does not belong to it. But this is doubtless a necessary part of his activity in experi ment; and the partial failures reveal, by their want of union between idea and charm of execution, how complete that union must be in his successeswhat intense thought is sometimes imbedded under the blending and delicate spread of color. In the painting of flowers he has a peculiar strength and delicacy. It has been said of them that they "have no botanical truth, but they are burning with love and beauty. This gives a wrong impression; for the truth of structure is always present, and the drawing exquisite, though the flowers are bathed, as they should be, in the dreamy light of their poetic quality -instead of being stiffly defined as parts of "botanical truth." The artist does not depict flowers, accurate as may be his treatment of form, for the sake of the particular truths science looks after. In his landscapes we find the same sort of thing-the sense of structure conveyed, rather than an entire statement of it traceable throughout. But that his knowledge of drawing deserves much respect is manifest on a review of his best wood-drawings and in portions of his portraits. The latter are not many; but one finds in them a boldness of handling and a sinewy strength which promise mastery. They attest, equally with his landscapes, Mr. La Farge's liberal and at the same time discriminative feeling for color. Feeling! We should rather say insight. Probably the best known of his landscapes is a large view from a hill near

[graphic]
[graphic]

CARTOON FOR ANGEL. TOWER OF TRINITY CHURCH, BOSTON. (REVERSED.)

Paradise (Newport), purchased by a Boston lady from the Academy Exhibition of 1876. It is a difficult subject: the land lying under morning light, near noon, and the gradations of pale grass-green and stone-gray, with other field-tints half effaced by the light, being extremely subtile. Much of the working out of the problem here set himself is wonderfully and beautifully done; but I am not sure that, as a whole, it shows the painter's finest qualities as well as some of his smaller pieces. In especial, I recall with delight a small winter scene shown at Boston in 1874, which some of the readers of this article may have seen. There was no" subject" other than a field of snow in which one scrub-oak was growing, and a soft, snowy sky above, in which not a single flake was individualized. But the snow on the ground is a marvel of study in almost imperceptible color. As you look at it, an ethereal tinge of pink appears at instants; farther back there is a tinge of green; then, again, on the left, where footsteps or the wind may have disturbed the surface, it has become slightly blue; and the course of a

small depression in the ground is marked by pale blue and violet. All these fine fluctuations of color, too, are introduced without injury to the light purity of the snow, which, indeed, has its effect enhanced by them After examining a piece of work like this, one is prepared to say that a reverent, unostentatious seeking-out of the more recondite elements of coloring is the source of Mr. La Farge's freshness and poetic tenderness in treating things which, in too many hands, are made matter-of-fact, or vague, or glaring. The sort of patient concentration upon every part of the scene before him, which is involved by this attitude of mind, must in itself generate a species of awe, a mood of worship. No sensitive mind can surrender itself sincerely to the reception of expressions so delicate from the face of nature, without being brought into a more or less devout frame. Now this is precisely what a careful observer notices, in various degrees, as he follows Mr. La Farge's different efforts; until suddenly it confronts him with unexpected power on looking at the well-known

were

"Saint Paul Preaching at Athens" (painted His gesture is masterly. The right arm originally for a church, but not so used, and is held forward from the elbow, and the now on exhibition in the Metropolitan Mu- strong hand turned with the palm up, but seum, New York). Passing over a variety inclined slightly downward. The left hand of lesser productions well worthy of our moves only so much as it would naturally attention were space at our disposal, we may do in the case of a man expounding somenext take a glance at this remarkable figure. thing—that is, the main intent is thrown into It has been well remarked that a deep the right hand, and the left acts quietly in sensibility to the three elements in nature sympathy with it. This, assisted by the of form, color, and rhythm, evolves the pose of the body, the right side of which is moral sense. The statement finds corrobo-advanced more than the other, at once gives ration in the case of Mr. La Farge. Very the idea of the preacher's facing an assemsusceptible, as we have seen, to these sen- bly intent upon his words. The colors of suous beauties, he nearly always gives them his draperies are green and red, and the a spiritual force; and in his "Saint Paul" sleeve of the right arm turns back from the this faculty of conveying through the out- wrist. The head, with its sun-browned ward aspect an interior significance rises forehead, and stern, thoughtful features, is to the height of a moral assertion. The extremely solemn and full of indescribable treatment of the figure is eminently realistic, gravity; yet through this look there steals a yet the picture is far from existing for the subdued smile of pride in the greatness of sake of this realism. It is symbolic without the subject which the preacher has to unfold. ceasing to be literal, and religious without being doctrinal. The figure of Saint Paul, alone, stands facing us, as if we among his listeners. This in itself is a bold and original conception. Instead of the whole scene being placed before us, with the Apostle and his hearers equally removed from us, as in Raphael's cartoon, our imagination is quickened into a half belief that the saint is actually present, and no more than ourselves a mere effigy on canvas. To produce this effect was, of course, harder than to conceive of it; but the attempt has succeeded. The preacher stands majestic, at ease, with the rough, unstudied repose of a strong and well-developed man. His bare feet rest firmly on the pavement. Behind him the square-set stones of a low wall rise nearly to his waist. A white canopy, held by a cord to thin wooden pilasters projecting above this wall, forms a light roof above him and falls in straight, thin folds behind him. At each side we get a glimpse of trees and sky, and the two ends of the hill of the Parthenon jut up in the far background-the intermediate outline being very faintly defined through the almost transparent linen of the curtain. It is intended, further, to indicate on this outline the form of the Parthenon itself, which, standing as a monument of Greek paganism, will thus become a symbolic fading vision of the religion that perishes, behind this figure that represents the new religion. By means of the screening linen partially shutting off the landscape, the main part of the saint's figure -including the movement of his arms, and the powerful head-is brought out strongly.

The curtain, it must be noted, is not absolutely white, but has the effect of white, so that a burst of light, coming through the lower corner at the right, and answering the gleam of white clouds floating across the rich, soft blue of the distant heaven, may have its due intensity. This subordination of the curtain, however, has a higher object. After one has looked some time at the head without noticing any unusual adjunct, there begins to dawn from the canvas, just above. a dim halo, as if the holiness of the man had but then made itself felt. At first, you are aware only of the man, but gradually, as his presence possesses you more, the halo breaks upon your sight, and you behold the saint. After this, the faint, awe-inspiring irradiation does not again die away, and the saint and man become identical; their attributes remain blended before you. It is useless to make any comment on an achievement so infinitely refined, so decidedly a spiritualization of art, as this. A purely intellectual perception of the relation between the saintly and the human has here been expressed in picture; the material substance of the pigments being subjected to the thought with a degree of art that is beyond praise and strangely original in kind. The invisible halo brightening into visibility, and then never dying out, is not the result of a trick, but attained by the nicest correlation of parts and balancing of values. It comes as the crown of a thoughtful, earnest, patient art, directed by a sentiment æsthetically true, but also deeper than the play of all æsthetics-rest ing on religious faith. The artist who could slowly lift, through all the technical process

« PředchozíPokračovat »