THE FRENCH IMPRESSIONISTS (1860-1900)
Author of L'art en Silence, Les Meres Sociales, etc.
Translated from the French text of Camille Mauclair, by P. G. Konody
London: Duckworth & Co. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Turnbull and Spears, Printers, Edinburgh
TO THE ARTIST AND TO THE FRIEND
AS A MARK OF GRATEFUL AFFECTION
It should be stated here that, with the exception of one reproduction after the Neo-Impressionist Van Rysselberghe, the other forty-nine engravings illustrating this volume I owe to the courtesy of M. Durand-Ruel, from the first the friend of the Impressionist painters, and later the most important collector of their works, a friend who has been good enough to place at our disposal the photographs from which our illustrations have been reproduced. Chosen from a considerable collection which has been formed for thirty years past, these photographs, none of which are for sale, form a veritable and unique museum of documents on Impressionist art, which is made even more valuable through the dispersal of the principal masterpieces of this art among the private collections of Europe and America. We render our thanks to M. Durand-Ruel no less in the name of the public interested in art, than in our own.
I. THE PRECURSORS OF IMPRESSIONISM—THE BEGINNING OF THIS MOVEMENT, THE ORIGIN OF ITS NAME
II. THE THEORY OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS—THE DIVISION OF TONES, COMPLEMENTARY COLOURS, THE STUDY OF ATMOSPHERE—THE IDEAS OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS ON SUBJECT-PICTURES, ON THE BEAUTY OF CHARACTER, ON MODERNITY, AND ON STYLE
III. EDOUARD MANET: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
IV. EDGAR DEGAS: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
V. CLAUDE MONET: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
VI. AUGUSTE RENOIR: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
VII. PISSARRO, SISLEY, CAILLEBOTTE, CEZANNE, BERTHE MORISOT, MARY CASSATT; THE SECONDARY ARTISTS OF IMPRESSIONISM—JONGKIND, BOUDIN
VIII. THE MODERN ILLUSTRATORS CONNECTED WITH IMPRESSIONISM: RAFFAELLI, TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, FORAIN, CHERET, ETC.
IX. NEO-IMPRESSIONISM: GAUGUIN, DENIS, THEO VAN RYSSELBERGHE—THE THEORY OF POINTILLISM—SEURAT, SIGNAC AND THE THEORIES OF SCIENTIFIC CHROMATISM—FAULTS AND QUALITIES OF THE IMPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT, WHAT WE OWE TO IT, ITS PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF THE FRENCH SCHOOL—SOME WORDS ON ITS INFLUENCE ABROAD
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
RENOIR. At the Piano (Frontispiece)
MANET. In the Square
MANET. Young Man in Costume of Majo
MANET. The Reader
DEGAS. The Dancer at the Photographer's
DEGAS. Carriages at the Races
DEGAS. The Greek Dance—Pastel
CLAUDE MONET. The Pines
CLAUDE MONET. Church at Vernon
RENOIR. Portrait of Madame Maitre
MANET. The Dead Toreador
MANET. The Woman with the Parrot
MANET. The Bar at the Folies Bergere
MANET. Portrait of Madame M. L.
MANET. The Hothouse
DEGAS. The Beggar Woman
DEGAS. The Lesson in the Foyer
DEGAS. The Dancing Lesson—Pastel
DEGAS. The Dancers
DEGAS. Horses in the Meadows
CLAUDE MONET. An Interior after Dinner
CLAUDE MONET. The Harbour, Honfleur
CLAUDE MONET. The Church at Varengeville
CLAUDE MONET. Poplars on the Epte in Autumn
CLAUDE MONET. The Bridge at Argenteuil
RENOIR. In the Box
RENOIR. Young Girl Promenading
RENOIR. Woman's Bust
RENOIR. Young Woman in Empire Costume
RENOIR. On the Terrace
PISSARRO. Rue de l'Epicerie, Rouen
PISSARRO. Boulevard Montmartre
PISSARRO. The Boildieaux Bridge at Rouen
PISSARRO. The Avenue de l'Opera
SISLEY. Snow Effect
SISLEY. Bougival, at the Water's Edge
SISLEY. Bridge at Moret
BERTHE MORISOT. Melancholy
BERTHE MORISOT. Young Woman Seated
MARY CASSATT. Getting up Baby
MARY CASSATT. Women and Child
JONGKIND. In Holland
JONGKIND. View of the Hague
THEO VAN RYSSELBERGHE. Portraits of Madame van Rysselberghe and her Daughter
NOTE TO LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The illustrations contained in this volume have been taken from different epochs of the Impressionist movement. They will give but a feeble idea of the extreme abundance of its production.
Banished from the salons, exhibited in private galleries and sold direct to art lovers, the Impressionist works have been but little seen. The series left by Caillebotte to the Luxembourg Gallery is very badly shown and is composed of interesting works which, however, date back to the early period, and are very inferior to the beautiful productions which followed later. Renoir is best represented. The private galleries in Paris, where the best Impressionist works are to be found, are those of MM. Durand-Ruel, Rouart, de Bellis, de Camondo, and Manzi, to which must be added the one sold by MM. Theodore Duret and Faure, and the one of Mme. Ernest Rouart, daughter of Mme. Morisot, the sister-in-law of Manet. The public galleries of M. Durand-Ruel's show-rooms are the place where it is easiest to find numerous Impressionist pictures.
In spite of the firm opposition of the official juries, a place of honour was reserved at the Exposition of 1889 for Manet, and at that of 1900 a fine collection of Impressionists occupied two rooms and caused a considerable stir.
Amongst the critics who have most faithfully assisted this group of artists, I must mention, besides the early friends previously referred to, Castagnary, Burty, Edouard de Goncourt, Roger Marx, Geffroy, Arsene Alexandre, Octave Mirbeau, L. de Fourcaud, Clemenceau, Mallarme, Huysmans, Jules Laforgue, and nearly all the critics of the Symbolist reviews. A book on "Impressionist Art" by M. Georges Lecomte has been published by the firm of Durand-Ruel as an edition-de-luxe. But the bibliography of this art consists as yet almost exclusively of articles in journals and reviews and of some isolated biographical pamphlets. Manet is, amongst many, the one who has excited most criticism of all kinds; the articles, caricatures and pamphlets relating to his work would form a considerable collection. It should be added that, with the exception of Manet two years before his death, and Renoir last year at the age of sixty-eight, no Impressionist has been decorated by the French government. In England such a distinction has even less importance in itself than elsewhere. But if I insist upon it, it is only to draw attention to the fact that, through the sheer force of their talent, men like Degas, Monet and Pissarro have achieved great fame and fortune, without gaining access to the Salons, without official encouragement, decoration, subvention or purchases for the national museums. This is a very significant instance and serves well to complete the physiognomy of this group of independents.
THE PRECURSORS OF IMPRESSIONISM—THE BEGINNING OF THIS MOVEMENT AND THE ORIGIN OF ITS NAME
It will be beyond the scope of this volume to give a complete history of French Impressionism, and to include all the attractive details to which it might lead, as regards the movement itself and the very curious epoch during which its evolution has taken place. The proportions of this book confine its aim to the clearest possible summing up for the British reader of the ideas, the personalities and the works of a considerable group of artists who, for various reasons, have remained but little known and who have only too frequently been gravely misjudged. These reasons are very obvious: first, the Impressionists have been unable to make a show at the Salons, partly because the jury refused them admission, partly because they held aloof of their own free will. They have, with very rare exceptions, exhibited at special minor galleries, where they become known to a very restricted public. Ever attacked, and poor until the last few years, they enjoyed none of the benefits of publicity and sham glory. It is only quite recently that the admission of the incomplete and badly arranged Caillebotte collection to the Luxembourg Gallery has enabled the public to form a summary idea of Impressionism. To conclude the enumeration of the obstacles, it must be added that there are hardly any photographs of Impressionist works in the market. As it is, photography is but a poor translation of these canvases devoted to the study of the play of light; but even this very feeble means of distribution has been withheld from them! Exhibited at some galleries, gathered principally by Durand-Ruel, sold directly to art-lovers—foreigners mostly—these large series of works have practically remained unknown to the French public. All the public heard was the reproaches and sarcastic comments of the opponents, and they never became aware that in the midst of modern life the greatest, the richest movement was in progress, which the French school had known since the days of Romanticism. Impressionism has been made known to them principally by the controversies and by the fruitful consequences of this movement for the illustration and study of contemporary life.
I do not profess to give here a detailed and complete history of Impressionism, for which several volumes like the present one would be required. I shall only try to compile an ensemble of concise and very precise notions and statements bearing upon this vast subject. It will be my special object to try and prove that Impressionism is neither an isolated manifestation, nor a violent denial of the French traditions, but nothing more or less than a logical return to the very spirit of these traditions, contrary to the theories upheld by its detractors. It is for this reason that I have made use of the first chapter to say a few words on the precursors of this movement.
No art manifestation is really isolated. However new it may seem, it is always based upon the previous epochs. The true masters do not give lessons, because art cannot be taught, but they set the example. To admire them does not mean to imitate them: it means the recognition in them of the principles of originality and the comprehension of their source, so that this eternal source may be called to life in oneself, this source which springs from a sincere and sympathetic vision of the aspects of life. The Impressionists have not escaped this beautiful law. I shall speak of them impartially, without excessive enthusiasm; and it will be my special endeavour to demonstrate in each of them the cult of a predecessor, for there have been few artistic movements where the love for, and one might say the hereditary link with, the preceding masters has been more tenacious.
The Academy has struggled violently against Impressionism, accusing it of madness, of systematic negation of the "laws of beauty," which it pretended to defend and of which it claimed to be the official priest. The Academy has shown itself hostile to a degree in this quarrel. It has excluded the Impressionists from the Salons, from awards, from official purchases. Only quite recently the acceptance of the Caillebotte bequest to the Luxembourg Gallery gave rise to a storm of indignation among the official painters. I shall, in the course of this book, enter upon the value of these attacks. Meanwhile I can only say how regrettable this obstinacy appears to me and will appear to every free spirit. It is unworthy even of an ardent conviction to condemn a whole group of artists en bloc as fools, enemies of beauty, or as tricksters anxious to degrade the art of their nation, when these artists worked during forty years towards the same goal, without getting any reward for their effort, but poverty and derision. It is now about ten years since Impressionism has taken root, since its followers can sell their canvases, and since they are admired and praised by a solid and ever-growing section of the public. The hour has therefore arrived, calmly to consider a movement which has imposed itself upon the history of French art from 1860 to 1900 with extreme energy, to leave dithyrambics as well as polemics, and to speak of it with a view to exactness. The Academy, in continuing the propagation of an ideal of beauty fixed by canons derived from Greek, Latin and Renaissance art, and neglecting the Gothic, the Primitives and the Realists, looks upon itself as the guardian of the national tradition, because it exercises an hierarchic authority over the Ecole de Rome, the Salons, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. All the same, its ideals are of very mixed origin and very little French. Its principles are the same by which the academic art of nearly all the official schools of Europe is governed. This mythological and allegorical art, guided by dogmas and formulas which are imposed upon all pupils regardless of their temperament, is far more international than national. To an impartial critic this statement will show in an even more curious light the excommunication jealously issued by the academic painters against French artists, who, far from revolting in an absurd spirit of parti-pris against the genius of their race, are perhaps more sincerely attached to it than their persecutors. Why should a group of men deliberately choose to paint mad, illogical, bad pictures, and reap a harvest of public derision, poverty and sterility? It would be uncritical to believe merely in a general mystification which makes its authors the worst sufferers. Simple common sense will find in these men a conviction, a sincerity, a sustained effort, and this alone should, in the name of the sacred solidarity of those who by various means try to express their love of the beautiful, suppress the annoying accusations hurled too light-heartedly against Manet and his friends.
I shall define later on the ideas of the Impressionists on technique, composition and style in painting. Meanwhile it will be necessary to indicate their principal precursors.
Their movement may be styled thus: a reaction against the Greco-Latin spirit and the scholastic organisation of painting after the second Renaissance and the Italo-French school of Fontainebleau, by the century of Louis XIV., the school of Rome, and the consular and imperial taste. In this sense Impressionism is a protest analogous to that of Romanticism, exclaiming, to quote the old verse: "Qui nous delivrera des Grecs et des Romains?" From this point of view Impressionism has also great affinities with the ideas of the English Pre-Raphaelites, who stepped across the second and even the first Renaissance back to the Primitives.
[Footnote 1: Who will deliver us from the Greeks and the Romans.]
This reaction is superimposed by another: the reaction of Impressionism, not only against classic subjects, but against the black painting of the degenerate Romanticists. And these two reactions are counterbalanced by a return to the French ideal, to the realistic and characteristic tradition which commences with Jean Foucquet and Clouet, and is continued by Chardin, Claude Lorrain, Poussin, Watteau, La Tour, Fragonard, and the admirable engravers of the eighteenth century down to the final triumph of the allegorical taste of the Roman revolution. Here can be found a whole chain of truly national artists who have either been misjudged, like Chardin, or considered as "small masters" and excluded from the first rank for the benefit of the pompous Allegorists descended from the Italian school.
Impressionism being beyond all a technical reaction, its predecessors should first be looked for from this material point of view. Watteau is the most striking of all. L'Embarquement pour Cythere is, in its technique, an Impressionist canvas. It embodies the most significant of all the principles exposed by Claude Monet: the division of tones by juxtaposed touches of colour which, at a certain distance, produce upon the eye of the beholder the effect of the actual colouring of the things painted, with a variety, a freshness and a delicacy of analysis unobtainable by a single tone prepared and mixed upon the palette.
Claude Lorrain, and after him Carle Vernet, are claimed by the Impressionists as precursors from the point of view of decorative landscape arrangement, and particularly of the predominance of light in which all objects are bathed. Ruysdael and Poussin are, in their eyes, for the same reasons precursors, especially Ruysdael, who observed so frankly the blue colouring of the horizon and the influence of blue upon the landscape. It is known that Turner worshipped Claude for the very same reasons. The Impressionists in their turn, consider Turner as one of their masters; they have the greatest admiration for this mighty genius, this sumptuous visionary. They have it equally for Bonington, whose technique is inspired by the same observations as their own. They find, finally, in Delacroix the frequent and very apparent application of their ideas. Notably in the famous Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, the fair woman kneeling in the foreground is painted in accordance with the principles of the division of tones: the nude back is furrowed with blue, green and yellow touches, the juxtaposition of which produces, at a certain distance, an admirable flesh-tone.
And now I must speak at some length of a painter who, together with the luminous and sparkling landscapist Felix Ziem, was the most direct initiator of Impressionist technique. Monticelli is one of those singular men of genius who are not connected with any school, and whose work is an inexhaustible source of applications. He lived at Marseilles, where he was born, made a short appearance at the Salons, and then returned to his native town, where he died poor, ignored, paralysed and mad. In order to live he sold his small pictures at the cafes, where they fetched ten or twenty francs at the most. To-day they sell for considerable prices, although the government has not yet acquired any work by Monticelli for the public galleries. The mysterious power alone of these paintings secures him a fame which is, alas! posthumous. Many Monticellis have been sold by dealers as Diaz's; now they are more eagerly looked for than Diaz, and collectors have made fortunes with these small canvases bought formerly, to use a colloquial expression which is here only too literally true, "for a piece of bread."
Monticelli painted landscapes, romantic scenes, "fetes galantes" in the spirit of Watteau, and still-life pictures: one could not imagine a more inspired sense of colour than shown by these works which seem to be painted with crushed jewels, with powerful harmony, and beyond all with an unheard-of delicacy in the perception of fine shades. There are tones which nobody had ever invented yet, a richness, a profusion, a subtlety which almost vie with the resources of music. The fairyland atmosphere of these works surrounds a very firm design of charming style, but, to use the words of the artist himself, "in these canvases the objects are the decoration, the touches are the scales, and the light is the tenor." Monticelli has created for himself an entirely personal technique which can only be compared with that of Turner; he painted with a brush so full, fat and rich, that some of the details are often truly modelled in relief, in a substance as precious as enamels, jewels, ceramics—a substance which is a delight in itself. Every picture by Monticelli provokes astonishment; constructed upon one colour as upon a musical theme, it rises to intensities which one would have thought impossible. His pictures are magnificent bouquets, bursts of joy and colour, where nothing is ever crude, and where everything is ruled by a supreme sense of harmony.
Claude Lorrain, Watteau, Turner and Monticelli constitute really the descent of a landscapist like Claude Monet. In all matters concerning technique, they form the direct chain of Impressionism. As regards design, subject, realism, the study of modern life, the conception of beauty and the portrait, the Impressionist movement is based upon the old French masters, principally upon Chardin, Watteau, Latour, Largilliere, Fragonard, Debucourt, Saint-Aubin, Moreau, and Eisen. It has resolutely held aloof from mythology, academic allegory, historical painting, and from the neo-Greek elements of Classicism as well as from the German and Spanish elements of Romanticism. This reactionary movement is therefore entirely French, and surely if it deserves reproach, the one least deserved is that levelled upon it by the official painters: disobedience to the national spirit. Impressionism is an art which does not give much scope to intellectuality, an art whose followers admit scarcely anything but immediate vision, rejecting philosophy and symbols and occupying themselves only with the consideration of light, picturesqueness, keen and clever observation, and antipathy to abstraction, as the innate qualities of French art. We shall see later on, when considering separately its principal masters, that each of them has based his art upon some masters of pure French blood.
Impressionism has, then, hitherto been very badly judged. It is contained in two chief points: search after a new technique, and expression of modern reality. Its birth has not been a spontaneous phenomenon. Manet, who, by his spirit and by the chance of his friendships, grouped around him the principal members, commenced by being classed in the ranks of the Realists of the second Romanticism by the side of Courbet; and during the whole first period of his work he only endeavoured to describe contemporary scenes, at a time when the laws of the new technique were already dawning upon Claude Monet. Gradually the grouping of the Impressionists took place. Claude Monet is really the first initiator: in a parallel line with his ideas and his works Manet passed into the second period of his artistic life, and with him Renoir, Degas and Pissarro. But Manet had already during his first period been the topic of far-echoing polemics, caused by his realism and by the marked influence of the Spaniards and of Hals upon his style; his temperament, too, was that of the head of a school; and for these reasons legend has attached to his name the title of head of the Impressionist school, but this legend is incorrect.
To conclude, the very name "Impressionism" is due to Claude Monet. There has been much serious arguing upon this famous word which has given rise to all sorts of definitions and conclusions. In reality this is its curious origin which is little known, even in criticism. Ever since 1860 the works of Manet and of his friends caused such a stir, that they were rejected en bloc by the Salon jury of 1863. The emperor, inspired by a praiseworthy, liberal thought, demanded that these innovators should at least have the right to exhibit together in a special room which was called the Salon des Refuses. The public crowded there to have a good laugh. One of the pictures which caused most derision was a sunset by Claude Monet, entitled Impressions. From this moment the painters who adopted more or less the same manner were called Impressionists. The word remained in use, and Manet and his friends thought it a matter of indifference whether this label was attached to them, or another. At this despised Salon were to be found the names of Manet, Monet, Whistler, Bracquemont, Jongkind, Fantin-Latour, Renoir, Legros, and many others who have since risen to fame. Universal ridicule only fortified the friendships and resolutions of this group of men, and from that time dates the definite foundation of the Impressionist school. For thirty years it continued to produce without interruption an enormous quantity of works under an accidental and inexact denomination; to obey the creative instinct, without any other dogma than the passionate observation of nature, without any other assistance than individual sympathies, in the face of the disciplinary teaching of the official school.
THE THEORY OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS—THE DIVISION OF TONES, COMPLEMENTARY COLOURS, THE STUDY OF ATMOSPHERE—THE IDEAS OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS ON SUBJECT-PICTURES, ON THE BEAUTY OF CHARACTER, ON MODERNITY, AND ON STYLE
It should be stated from the outset that there is nothing dogmatic about this explanation of the Impressionist theories, and that it is not the result of a preconceived plan. In art a system is not improvised. A theory is slowly evolved, nearly always unknown to the author, from the discoveries of his sincere instinct, and this theory can only be formulated after years by criticism facing the works. Monet and Manet have worked for a long time without ever thinking that theories would be built upon their paintings. Yet a certain number of considerations will strike the close observer, and I will put these considerations before the reader, after reminding him that spontaneity and feeling are the essentials of all art.
The Impressionist ideas may be summed up in the following manner:—
In nature no colour exists by itself. The colouring of the objects is a pure illusion: the only creative source of colour is the sunlight which envelopes all things, and reveals them, according to the hours, with infinite modifications. The mystery of matter escapes us; we do not know the exact moment when reality separates itself from unreality. All we know is, that our vision has formed the habit of discerning in the universe two notions: form and colour; but these two notions are inseparable. Only artificially can we distinguish between outline and colour: in nature the distinction does not exist. Light reveals the forms, and, playing upon the different states of matter, the substance of leaves, the grain of stones, the fluidity of air in deep layers, gives them dissimilar colouring. If the light disappears, forms and colours vanish together. We only see colours; everything has a colour, and it is by the perception of the different colour surfaces striking our eyes, that we conceive the forms, i.e. the outlines of these colours.
The idea of distance, of perspective, of volume is given us by darker or lighter colours: this idea is what is called in painting the sense of values. A value is the degree of dark or light intensity, which permits our eyes to comprehend that one object is further or nearer than another. And as painting is not and cannot be the imitation of nature, but merely her artificial interpretation, since it only has at its disposal two out of three dimensions, the values are the only means that remain for expressing depth on a flat surface.
Colour is therefore the procreatrix of design. Or, colour being simply the irradiation of light, it follows that all colour is composed of the same elements as sunlight, namely the seven tones of the spectrum. It is known, that these seven tones appear different owing to the unequal speed of the waves of light. The tones of nature appear to us therefore different, like those of the spectrum, and for the same reason. The colours vary with the intensity of light. There is no colour peculiar to any object, but only more or less rapid vibration of light upon its surface. The speed depends, as is demonstrated by optics, on the degree of the inclination of the rays which, according to their vertical or oblique direction, give different light and colour.
The colours of the spectrum are thus recomposed in everything we see. It is their relative proportion which makes new tones out of the seven spectral tones. This leads immediately to some practical conclusions, the first of which is, that what has formerly been called local colour is an error: a leaf is not green, a tree-trunk is not brown, and, according to the time of day, i.e. according to the greater or smaller inclination of the rays (scientifically called the angle of incidence), the green of the leaf and the brown of the tree are modified. What has to be studied therefore in these objects, if one wishes to recall their colour to the beholder of a picture, is the composition of the atmosphere which separates them from the eye. This atmosphere is the real subject of the picture, and whatever is represented upon it only exists through its medium.
A second consequence of this analysis of light is, that shadow is not absence of light, but light of a different quality and of different value. Shadow is not a part of the landscape, where light ceases, but where it is subordinated to a light which appears to us more intense. In the shadow the rays of the spectrum vibrate with different speed. Painting should therefore try to discover here, as in the light parts, the play of the atoms of solar light, instead of representing shadows with ready-made tones composed of bitumen and black.
The third conclusion resulting from this: the colours in the shadow are modified by refraction. That means, f.i. in a picture representing an interior, the source of light (window) may not be indicated: the light circling round the picture will then be composed of the reflections of rays whose source is invisible, and all the objects, acting as mirrors for these reflections, will consequently influence each other. Their colours will affect each other, even if the surfaces be dull. A red vase placed upon a blue carpet will lead to a very subtle, but mathematically exact, interchange between this blue and this red, and this exchange of luminous waves will create between the two colours a tone of reflections composed of both. These composite reflections will form a scale of tones complementary of the two principal colours. The science of optics can work out these complementary colours with mathematical exactness. If f.i. a head receives the orange rays of daylight from one side and the bluish light of an interior from the other, green reflections will necessarily appear on the nose and in the middle region of the face. The painter Besnard, who has specially devoted himself to this minute study of complementary colours, has given us some famous examples of it.
The last consequence of these propositions is that the blending of the spectral tones is accomplished by a parallel and distinct projection of the colours. They are artificially reunited on the crystalline: a lens interposed between the light and the eye, and opposing the crystalline, which is a living lens, dissociates again these united rays, and shows us again the seven distinct colours of the atmosphere. It is no less artificial if a painter mixes upon his palette different colours to compose a tone; it is again artificial that paints have been invented which represent some of the combinations of the spectrum, just to save the artist the trouble of constantly mixing the seven solar tones. Such mixtures are false, and they have the disadvantage of creating heavy tonalities, since the coarse mixture of powders and oils cannot accomplish the action of light which reunites the luminous waves into an intense white of unimpaired transparency. The colours mixed on the palette compose a dirty grey. What, then, is the painter to do, who is anxious to approach, as near as our poor human means will allow, that divine fairyland of nature? Here we touch upon the very foundations of Impressionism. The painter will have to paint with only the seven colours of the spectrum, and discard all the others: that is what Claude Monet has done boldly, adding to them only white and black. He will, furthermore, instead of composing mixtures on his palette, place upon his canvas touches of none but the seven colours juxtaposed, and leave the individual rays of each of these colours to blend at a certain distance, so as to act like sunlight itself upon the eye of the beholder.
This, then, is the theory of the dissociation of tones, which is the main point of Impressionist technique. It has the immense advantage of suppressing all mixtures, of leaving to each colour its proper strength, and consequently its freshness and brilliancy. At the same time the difficulties are extreme. The painter's eye must be admirably subtle. Light becomes the sole subject of the picture; the interest of the object upon which it plays is secondary. Painting thus conceived becomes a purely optic art, a search for harmonies, a sort of natural poem, quite distinct from expression, style and design, which were the principal aims of former painting. It is almost necessary to invent another name for this special art which, clearly pictorial though it be, comes as near to music, as it gets far away from literature and psychology. It is only natural that, fascinated by this study, the Impressionists have almost remained strangers to the painting of expression, and altogether hostile to historical and symbolist painting. It is therefore principally in landscape painting that they have achieved the greatness that is theirs.
Through the application of these principles which I have set forth very summarily, Claude Monet arrived at painting by means of the infinitely varied juxtaposition of a quantity of colour spots which dissociate the tones of the spectrum and draw the forms of objects through the arabesque of their vibrations. A landscape thus conceived becomes a kind of symphony, starting from one theme (the most luminous point, f.i.), and developing all over the canvas the variations of this theme. This investigation is added to the habitual preoccupations of the landscapist study of the character peculiar to the scene, style of the trees or houses, accentuation of the decorative side—and to the habitual preoccupations of the figure painter in the portrait. The canvases of Monet, Renoir and Pissarro have, in consequence of this research, an absolutely original aspect: their shadows are striped with blue, rose-madder and green; nothing is opaque or sooty; a light vibration strikes the eye. Finally, blue and orange predominate, simply because in these studies—which are more often than not full sunlight effects—blue is the complementary colour of the orange light of the sun, and is profusely distributed in the shadows. In these canvases can be found a vast amount of exact grades of tone, which seem to have been entirely ignored by the older painters, whose principal concern was style, and who reduced a landscape to three or four broad tones, endeavouring only to explain the sentiment inspired by it.
And now I shall have to pass on to the Impressionists' ideas on the style itself of painting, on Realism.
From the outset it must not be forgotten that Impressionism has been propagated by men who had all been Realists; that means by a reactionary movement against classic and romantic painting. This movement, of which Courbet will always remain the most famous representative, has been anti-intellectual. It has protested against every literary, psychologic or symbolical element in painting. It has reacted at the same time against the historical painting of Delaroche and the mythological painting of the Ecole de Rome, with an extreme violence which appears to us excessive now, but which found its explanation in the intolerable tediousness or emphasis at which the official painters had arrived. Courbet was a magnificent worker, with rudimentary ideas, and he endeavoured to exclude even those which he possessed. This exaggeration which diminishes our admiration for his work and prevents us from finding in it any emotion but that which results from technical mastery, was salutary for the development of the art of his successors. It caused the young painters to turn resolutely towards the aspects of contemporary life, and to draw style and emotion from their own epoch; and this intention was right. An artistic tradition is not continued by imitating the style of the past, but by extracting the immediate impression of each epoch. That is what the really great masters have done, and it is the succession of their sincere and profound observations which constitutes the style of the races.
Manet and his friends drew all their strength from this idea. Much finer and more learned than a man like Courbet, they saw an aspect of modernity far more complex, and less limited to immediate and grossly superficial realism. Nor must it be forgotten that they were contemporaries of the realistic, anti-romantic literary movement, a movement which gave them nothing but friends. Flaubert and the Goncourts proved that Realism is not the enemy of refined form and of delicate psychology. The influence of these ideas created first of all Manet and his friends: the technical evolution (of which we have traced the chief traits) came only much later to oppose itself to their conceptions. Impressionism can therefore be defined as a revolution of pictorial technique together with an attempt at expressing modernity. The reaction against Symbolism and Romanticism happened to coincide with the reaction against muddy technique.
The Impressionists, whilst occupying themselves with cleansing the palette of the bitumen of which the Academy made exaggerated use, whilst also observing nature with a greater love of light, made it their object to escape in the representation of human beings the laws of beauty, such as were taught by the School. And on this point one might apply to them all that one knows of the ideas of the Goncourts and Flaubert, and later of Zola, in the domain of the novel. They were moved by the same ideas; to speak of the one group is to speak of the other. The longing for truth, the horror of emphasis and of false idealism which paralysed the novelist as well as the painter, led the Impressionists to substitute for beauty a novel notion, that of character. To search for, and to express, the true character of a being or of a site, seemed to them more significant, more moving, than to search for an exclusive beauty, based upon rules, and inspired by the Greco-Latin ideal. Like the Flemings, the Germans, the Spaniards, and in opposition to the Italians whose influence had conquered all the European academies, the French Realist-Impressionists, relying upon the qualities of lightness, sincerity and expressive clearness which are the real merits of their race, detached themselves from the oppressive and narrow preoccupation with the beautiful and with all the metaphysics and abstractions following in its train.
This fact of the substitution of character for beauty is the essential feature of the movement. What is called Impressionism is—let it not be forgotten—a technique which can be applied to any subject. Whether the subject be a virgin, or a labourer, it can be painted with divided tones, and certain living artists, like the symbolist Henri Martin, who has almost the ideas of a Pre-Raphaelite, have proved it by employing this technique for the rendering of religious or philosophic subjects. But one can only understand the effort and the faults of the painters grouped around Manet, by constantly recalling to one's mind their predeliction for character. Before Manet a distinction was made between noble subjects, and others which were relegated to the domain of genre in which no great artist was admitted to exist by the School, the familiarity of their subjects barring from them this rank. By the suppression of the nobleness inherent to the treated subject, the painter's technical merit is one of the first things to be considered in giving him rank. The Realist-Impressionists painted scenes in the ball-room, on the river, in the field, the street, the foundry, modern interiors, and found in the life of the humble immense scope for studying the gestures, the costumes, the expressions of the nineteenth century.
Their effort had its bearing upon the way of representing persons, upon what is called, in the studio language, the "mise en cadre." There, too, they overthrew the principles admitted by the School. Manet, and especially Degas, have created in this respect a new style from which the whole art of realistic contemporary illustration is derived. This style had been hitherto totally ignored, or the artists had shrunk from applying it. It is a style which is founded upon the small painters of the eighteenth century, upon Saint-Aubin, Debucourt, Moreau, and, further back, upon Pater and the Dutchmen. But this time, instead of confining this style to vignettes and very small dimensions, the Impressionists have boldly given it the dimensions and importance of big canvases. They have no longer based the laws of composition, and consequently of style, upon the ideas relative to the subjects, but upon values and harmonies. To take a summary example: if the School composed a picture representing the death of Agamemnon, it did not fail to subordinate the whole composition to Agamemnon, then to Clytemnestra, then to the witnesses of the murder, graduating the moral and literary interest according to the different persons, and sacrificing to this interest the colouring and the realistic qualities of the scene. The Realists composed by picking out first the strongest "value" of the picture, say a red dress, and then distributing the other values according to a harmonious progression of their tonalities. "The principal person in a picture," said Manet, "is the light." With Manet and his friends we find, then, that the concern for expression and for the sentiments evoked by the subject, was always subordinated to a purely pictorial and decorative preoccupation. This has frequently led the Impressionists to grave errors, which they have, however, generally avoided by confining themselves to very simple subjects, for which the daily life supplied the grouping.
One of the reforms due to their conception has been the suppression of the professional model, and the substitution for it of the natural model, seen in the exercise of his occupation. This is one of the most useful conquests for the benefit of modern painting. It marks a just return to nature and simplicity. Nearly all their figures are real portraits; and in everything that concerns the labourer and the peasant, they have found the proper style and character, because they have observed these beings in the true medium of their occupations, instead of forcing them into a sham pose and painting them in disguise. The basis of all their pictures has been first of all a series of landscape and figure studies made in the open air, far from the studio, and afterwards co-ordinated. One may wish pictorial art to have higher ambitions; and one may find in the Primitives an example of a curious mysticism, an expression of the abstract and of dreams. But one should not underrate the power of naive and realistic observation, which the Primitives carried into the execution of their works, subordinating it, however, to religious expression, and it must also be admitted that the Realist-Impressionists served at least their conception of art logically and homogeneously. The criticism which may be levelled against them is that which Realism itself carries in its train, and we shall see that esthetics could never create classifications capable of defining and containing the infinite gradations of creative temperaments.
In art, classifications have rarely any value, and are rather damaging. Realism and Idealism are abstract terms which cannot suffice to characterise beings who obey their sensibility. It is therefore necessary to invent as many words as there are remarkable men. If Leonardo was a great painter, are Turner and Monet not painters at all? There is no connection between them; their methods of thought and expression are antithetical. Perhaps it will be most simple, to admire them all, and to renounce any further definition of the painter, adopting this word to mark the man who uses the palette as his means of expression.
Thus preoccupation with contemporary emotions, substitution of character for classic beauty (or of emotional beauty for formal beauty), admission of the genre-painter into the first rank, composition based upon the reciprocal reaction of values, subordination of the subject to the interest of execution, the effort to isolate the art of painting from the ideas inherent to that of literature, and particularly the instinctive move towards the "symphonisation" of colours, and consequently towards music,—these are the principal features of the aesthetic code of the Realist-Impressionists, if this term may be applied to a group of men hostile towards esthetics such as they are generally taught.
EDOUARD MANET: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
As I have said, Edouard Manet has not been entirely the originator of the Impressionist technique. It is the work of Claude Monet which presents the most complete example of it, and which also came first as regards date. But it is very difficult to determine such cases of priority, and it is, after all, rather useless. A technique cannot be invented in a day. In this case it was the result of long investigations, in which Manet and Renoir participated, and it is necessary to unite under the collective name of Impressionists a group of men, tied by friendship, who made a simultaneous effort towards originality, all in about the same spirit, though frequently in very different ways. As in the case of the Pre-Raphaelites, it was first of all friendship, then unjust derision, which created the solidarity of the Impressionists. But the Pre-Raphaelites, in aiming at an idealistic and symbolic art, were better agreed upon the intellectual principles which permitted them at once to define a programme. The Impressionists who were only united by their temperaments, and had made it their first aim to break away from all school programmes, tried simply to do something new, with frankness and freedom.
Manet was, in their midst, the personality marked out at the same time by their admiration, and by the attacks of the critics for the post of standard-bearer. A little older than his friends, he had already, quite alone, raised heated discussions by the works in his first manner. He was considered an innovator, and it was by instinctive admiration that his first friends, Whistler, Legros, and Fantin-Latour, were gradually joined by Marcelin Desboutin, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, the young painter Bazille, who met his premature death in 1870, and by the writers Gautier, Banville, Baudelaire (who was a passionate admirer of Manet's); then later by Zola, the Goncourts, and Stephane Mallarme. This was the first nucleus of a public which was to increase year by year. Manet had the personal qualities of a chief; he was a man of spirit, an ardent worker, and an enthusiastic and generous character.
Manet commenced his first studies with Couture. After having travelled a good deal at sea to obey his parents, his vocation took hold of him irresistibly. About 1850 the young man entered the studio of the severe author of the Romains de la Decadence. His stay was short. He displeased the professor by his uncompromising energy. Couture said of him angrily: "He will become the Daumier of 1860." It is known that Daumier, lithographer, and painter of genius, was held in meagre esteem by the academicians. Manet travelled in Germany after the coup d'etat, copied Rembrandt in Munich, then went to Italy, copied Tintoretto in Venice, and conceived there the idea of several religious pictures. Then he became enthusiastic about the Spaniards, especially Velasquez and Goya. The sincere expression of things seen took root from this moment as the principal rule of art in the brain of this young Frenchman who was loyal, ardent, and hostile to all subtleties. He painted some fine works, like the Buveur d'absinthe and the Vieux musicien. They show the influence of Courbet, but already the blacks and the greys have an original and superb quality; they announce a virtuoso of the first order.
It was in 1861 that Manet first sent to the Salon the portraits of his parents and the Guitarero, which was hailed by Gautier, and rewarded by the jury, though it roused surprise and irritation. But after that he was rejected, whether it was a question of the Fifre or of the Dejeuner sur l'herbe. This canvas, with an admirable feminine nude, created a scandal, because an undressed woman figured in it amidst clothed figures, a matter of frequent occurrence with the masters of the Renaissance. The landscape is not painted in the open air, but in the studio, and resembles a tapestry, but it shows already the most brilliant evidence of Manet's talent in the study of the nude and the still-life of the foreground, which is the work of a powerful master. From the time of this canvas the artist's personality appeared in all its maturity. He painted it before he was thirty, and it has the air of an old master's work; it is based upon Hals and the Spaniards together.
The reputation of Manet became established after 1865. Furious critics were opposed by enthusiastic admirers. Baudelaire upheld Manet, as he had upheld Delacroix and Wagner, with his great clairvoyance, sympathetic to all real originality. The Olympia brought the discussion to a head. This courtesan lying in bed undressed, with a negress carrying a bouquet, and a black cat, made a tremendous stir. It is a powerful work of strong colour, broad design and intense sentiment, astounding in its parti-pris of reducing the values to the greatest simplicity. One can feel in it the artist's preoccupation with rediscovering the rude frankness of Hals and Goya, and his aversion against the prettiness and false nobility of the school. This famous Olympia which occasioned so much fury, appears to us to-day as a transition work. It is neither a masterpiece, nor an emotional work, but a technical experiment, very significant for the epoch during which it appeared in French art, and this canvas, which is very inferior to Manet's fine works, may well be considered as a date of evolution. He was doubtful about exhibiting it, but Baudelaire decided him and wrote to him on this occasion these typical remarks: "You complain about attacks? But are you the first to endure them? Have you more genius than Chateaubriand and Wagner? They were not killed by derision. And, in order not to make you too proud, I must tell you, that they are models each in his own way and in a very rich world, whilst you are only the first in the decrepitude of your art."
Thus it must be firmly established that from this moment Manet passed as an innovator, years before Impressionism existed or was even thought of. This is an important point: it will help to clear up the twofold origin of the movement which followed. To his realism, to his return to composition in the modern spirit, and to the simplifying of planes and values, Manet owed these attacks, though at that time his colour was still sombre and entirely influenced by Hals, Goya and Courbet. From that time the artist became a chief. As his friends used to meet him at an obscure Batignolles cafe, the cafe Guerbois (still existing), public derision baptized these meetings with the name of "L'Ecole des Batignolles." Manet then exhibited the Angels at the Tomb of Christ, a souvenir of the Venetians; Lola de Valence, commented upon by Baudelaire in a quatrain which can be found in the Fleurs du Mal; the Episode d'un combat de taureaux (dissatisfied with this picture, he cut out the dead toreador in the foreground, and burnt the rest). The Acteur tragique (portrait of Rouviere in Hamlet) and the Jesus insulte followed, and then came the Gitanos, L'Enfant a l'Epee, and the portrait of Mme. Manet. This series of works is admirable. It is here where he reveals himself as a splendid colourist, whose design is as vigorous as the technique is masterly. In these works one does not think of looking for anything but the witchery of technical strength; and the abundant wealth of his temperament is simply dazzling. Manet reveals himself as the direct heir of the great Spaniards, more interesting, more spontaneous, and freer than Courbet. The Rouviere is as fine a symphony in grey and black as the noblest portraits by Bronzino, and there is probably no Goya more powerful than the Toreador tue. Manet's altogether classic descent appears here undeniably. There is no question yet of Impressionism, and yet Monet and Renoir are already painting, Monet has exhibited at the Salon des Refuses, but criticism sees and attacks nobody but Manet. This great individuality who overwhelmed the Academy with its weak allegories, was the butt of great insults and the object of great admiration. Banished from the Salons, he collected fifty pictures in a room in the Avenue de l'Alma and invited the public thither. In 1868 appeared the portrait of Emile Zola, in 1860 the Dejeuner, works which are so powerful, that they enforced admiration in spite of all hostility. In the Salon of 1870 was shown the portrait of Eva Gonzales, the charming pastellist and pupil of Manet, and the impressive Execution of Maximilian at Queretaro. Manet was at the apogee of his talent, when the Franco-German war broke out. At the age of thirty-eight he had put forth a considerable amount of work, tried himself in all styles, severed his individuality from the slavish admiration of the old masters, and attained his own mastery. And now he wanted to expand, and, in joining Monet, Renoir and Degas, interpret in his own way the Impressionist theory.
The Fight of the Kearsage and the Alabama, a magnificent sea-piece, bathed in sunlight, announced this transformation in his work, as did also a study, a Garden, painted, I believe, in 1870, but exhibited only after the crisis of the terrible year. At that time the Durand-Ruel Gallery bought a considerable series by the innovator, and was imitated by some select art-lovers. The Musique aux Tuileries and the Bal de l'Opera had, some years before, pointed towards the evolution of this great artist in the direction of plein-air painting. The Bon Bock, in which the very soul of Hals is revived, and the grave Liseur, sold immediately at Vienne, were the two last pledges given by the artist to his old admirers; these two pictures had moreover a splendid success, and the Bon Bock, popularised by an engraving, was hailed by the very men who had most unjustly attacked the author of the portrait of Mme. Morisot, a French masterpiece. But already Manet was attracted irresistibly towards the study of light, and, faithful to his programme, he prepared to face once again outbursts of anger and further sarcasms; he was resolved once again to offer battle to the Salons. Followed by all the Impressionists he tried to make them understand the necessity of introducing the new ideas into this retrograde Milieu. But they would not. Having already received a rebuff by the attacks directed for some years against their works, they exhibited among themselves in some private galleries: they declined to force the gate of the Salons, and Manet remained alone. In 1875 he submitted, with his Argenteuil, the most perfect epitome of his atmospheric researches. The jury admitted it in spite of loud protests: they were afraid of Manet; they admired his power of transformation, and he revolted the prejudiced, attracting them at the same time by the charm of his force. But in 1876 the portrait of Desboutin and the Linge (an exquisite picture,—one of the best productions of open-air study) were rejected. Manet then recommenced the experience of 1867, and opened his studio to the public. A register at the door was soon covered with signatures protesting against the jury, as well as with hostile jokes, and even anonymous insults! In 1877 the defeated jury admitted the portrait of the famous singer Faure in the part of Hamlet, and rejected Nana, a picture which was found scandalising, but has charming freshness and an intensely modern character. In 1878, 1879 and 1880 they accepted la Serre, the surprising symphony in blue and white which shows Mr George Moore in boating costume, the portrait of Antonin Proust, and the scene at the Pere Lathuile restaurant, in which Manet's nervous and luminous realism has so curious a resemblance to the art of the Goncourts. In 1881 the portrait of Rochefort and that of the lion-killer, Pertuiset, procured the artist a medal at the Salon, and Antonin Proust, the friend of Manet's childhood, who had become Minister of Fine Arts, honoured himself in decorating him with the legion of honour. In 1882 appeared a magnificent canvas, the Bar des Folies-Bergere, in which there is some sparkling still-life painting of most attractive beauty. It was accompanied by a lady's portrait, Jeanne. But on April 30, 1883, Manet died, exhausted by his work and struggles, of locomotor ataxy, after having vainly undergone the amputation of a foot to avoid gangrene.
It will be seen that Manet fought through all his life: few artists' lives have been nobler. His has been an example of untiring energy; he employed it as much in working, as in making a stand against prejudices. Rejected, accepted, rejected again, he delivered with enormous courage and faith his attack upon a jury which represented routine. As he fought in front of his easel, he still fought before the public, without ever relaxing, without changing, alone, apart even from those whom he loved, who had been shaped by his example. This great painter, one of those who did most honour to the French soul, had the genius to create by himself an Impressionism of his own which will always remain his own, after having given evidence of gifts of the first order in the tradition handed down by the masters of the real and the good. He cannot be confused either with Monet, or with Pissarro and Renoir. His comprehension of light is a special one, his technique is not in accordance with the system of colour-spots; it observes the theory of complementary colours and of the division of tones without departing from a grand style, from a classic stateliness, from a superb sureness. Manet has not been the inventor of Impressionism which co-existed with his work since 1865, but he has rendered it immense services, by taking upon himself all the outbursts of anger addressed to the innovators, by making a breach in public opinion, through which his friends have passed in behind him. Probably without him all these artists would have remained unknown, or at least without influence, because they all were bold characters in art, but timid or disdainful in life. Degas, Monet and Renoir were fine natures with a horror of polemics, who wished to hold aloof from the Salons, and were resigned from the outset to be misunderstood. They were, so to say, electrified by the magnificent example of Manet's fighting spirit, and Manet was generous enough to take upon himself the reproaches levelled, not only against his work, but against theirs. His twenty years of open war, sustained with an abnegation worthy of all esteem, must be considered as one of the most significant phenomena of the history of the artists of all ages.
This work of Manet, so much discussed and produced under such tormenting conditions, owes its importance beyond all to its power and frankness. Ten years of developing the first manner, tragically limited by the war of 1870; thirteen years of developing the second evolution, parallel with the efforts of the Impressionists. The period from 1860 to 1870 is logically connected with Hals and Goya; from 1870 to 1883 the artist's modernity is complicated by the study of light. His personality appears there even more original, but one may well give the palm to those works of Manet which are painted in his classic and low-toned manner. He had all the pictorial gifts which make the glory of the masters: full, true, broad composition, colouring of irresistible power, blacks and greys which cannot be found elsewhere since Velasquez and Goya, and a profound knowledge of values. He has tried his hand at everything: portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of modern life, still-life and nudes have each in their turn served his ardent desire of creation. His was a much finer comprehension of contemporary life than seems to be admitted by Realism: one has only to compare him with Courbet, to see how far more nervous and intelligent he was, without loss to the qualities of truth and robustness. His pictures will always remain documents of the greatest importance on the society, the manners and customs of the second Empire. He did not possess the gift of psychology. His Christ aux Anges and Jesus insulte are obviously only pieces of painting without idealism. He was, like the great Dutch virtuosos, and like certain Italians, more eye than soul. Yet his Maximilian, the drawings to Poe's Raven, and certain sketches show that he might have realised some curious, psychological works, had he not been so completely absorbed by the immediate reality and by the desire for beautiful paint. A beautiful painter—this is what he was before everything else, this is his fairest fame, and it is almost inconceivable that the juries of the Salons failed to understand him. They waxed indignant over his subjects which offer only a restricted interest, and they did not see the altogether classic quality of this technique without bitumen, without glazing, without tricks; of this vibrating colour; of this rich paint; of this passionate design so suitable for expressing movement and gestures true to life; of this simple composition where the whole picture is based upon two or three values with the straightforwardness one admires in Rubens, Jordaens and Hals.
Manet will occupy an important position in the French School. He is the most original painter of the second half of the nineteenth century, the one who has really created a great movement. His work, the fecundity of which is astonishing, is unequal. One has to remember that, besides the incessant strife which he kept up—a strife which would have killed many artists—he had to find strength for two grave crises in himself. He joined one movement, then freed himself of it, then invented another and recommenced to learn painting at a point where anybody else would have continued in his previous manner. "Each time I paint," he said to Mallarme, "I throw myself into the water to learn swimming." It is not surprising that such a man should have been unequal, and that one can distinguish in his work between experiments, exaggerations due to research, and efforts made to reject the prejudices of which we feel the weight no longer. But it would be unjust to say that Manet has only had the merit of opening up new roads; that has been said to belittle him, after it had first been said that these roads led into absurdity. Works like the Toreador, Rouviere, Mme. Manet, the Dejeuner, the Musique aux Tuileries, the Bon Bock, Argenteuil, Le Linge, En Bateau and the Bar, will always remain admirable masterpieces which will do credit to French painting, of which the spontaneous, living, clear and bold art of Manet is a direct and very representative product.
There remains, then, a great personality who knew how to dominate the rather coarse conceptions of Realism, who influenced by his modernity all contemporary illustration, who re-established a sound and strong tradition in the face of the Academy, and who not only created a new transition, but marked his place on the new road which he had opened. To him Impressionism owes its existence; his tenacity enabled it to take root and to vanquish the opposition of the School; his work has enriched the world by some beautiful examples which demonstrate the union of the two principles of Realism and of that technical Impressionism which was to supply Manet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley with an object for their efforts. For the sum total of all that is evoked by his name, Edouard Manet certainly deserves the name of a man of genius—an incomplete genius, though, since the thought with him was not on the level of his technique, since he could never affect the emotions like a Leonardo or a Rembrandt, but genius all the same through the magnificent power of his gifts, the continuity of his style, and the importance of his part which infused blood into a school dying of the anaemia of conventional art. Whoever beholds a work of Manet's, even without knowing the conditions of his life, will feel that there is something great, the lion's claw which Delacroix had recognised as far back as 1861, and to which, it is said, even the great Ingres had paid homage on the jury which examined with disgust the Guitarero.
To-day Manet is considered almost as a classic glory; and the progress for which he had given the impulse, has been so rapid, that many are astonished that he should ever have been considered audacious. Sight is transformed, strife is extinguished, and a large, select public, familiar with Monet and Renoir, judge Manet almost as a long defunct initiator. One has to know his admirable life, one has to know well the incredible inertia of the Salons where he appeared, to give him his full due. And when, after the acceptance of Impressionism, the unavoidable reaction will take place, Manet's qualities of solidity, truth and science will appear such, that he will survive many of those to whom he has opened the road and facilitated the success at the expense of his own. It will be seen that Degas and he have, more than the others, and with less apparent eclat, united the gifts which produce durable works in the midst of the fluctuations of fashion and the caprices of taste and views. Manet can, at the Louvre or any other gallery, hold his own in the most crushing surroundings, prove his personal qualities, and worthily represent a period which he loved.
An enormous amount has been written on him, from Zola's bold and intelligent pamphlet in 1865, to the recent work by M. Theodore Duret. Few men have provoked more comments. In an admirable picture, Hommage a Manet, the delicate and perfect painter Fantin-Latour, a friend from the first hour, has grouped around the artist some of his admirers, Monet, Renoir, Duranty, Zola, Bazille, and Braquemond. The picture has to-day a place of honour at the Luxembourg, where Manet is insufficiently represented by Olympia, a study of a woman, and the Balcony. A collection is much to be desired of his lithographs, his etchings and his pastels, in which he has proved his diversified mastery, and also of his portraits of famous contemporaries, Zola, Rochefort, Desboutin, Proust, Mallarme, Clemenceau, Guys, Faure, Baudelaire, Moore, and others, an admirable series by a visionary who possessed, in a period of unrest and artificiality, the quality of rude sincerity, and the love of truth of a Primitive.
EDGAR DEGAS: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
I have said how vain it is to class artistic temperaments under a title imposed upon them generally by circumstances and dates, rather than by their own free will. The study of Degas will furnish additional proof for it. Classed with the Impressionists, this master participates in their ideas in the sphere of composition, rather than in that of colour. He belongs to them through his modernity and comprehension of character. Only when we come to his quite recent landscapes (1896), can we link him to Monet and Renoir as colourist, and he has been more their friend than their colleague.
Degas is known by the select few, and almost ignored by the public. This is due to several reasons. Degas has never wished to exhibit at the Salons, except, I believe, once or twice at the beginning of his career. He has only shown his works at those special exhibitions arranged by the Impressionists in hired apartments (rue le Peletier, rue Laffitte, Boulevard des Capucines), and at some art-dealers. The art of Degas has never had occasion to shock the public by the exuberance of its colour, because he restricted himself to grey and quiet harmonies. Degas is a modest character, fond of silence and solitude, with a horror of the crowd and of controversies, and almost disinclined to show his works. He is a man of intelligence and ready wit, whose sallies are dreaded; he is almost a misanthrope. His pictures have been gradually sold to foreign countries and dispersed in rich galleries without having been seen by the public. His character is, in short, absolutely opposed to that of Manet, who, though he suffered from criticism, thought it his duty to bid it defiance. Degas's influence has, however, been considerable, though secretly so, and the young painters have been slowly inspired by his example.
Degas is beyond all a draughtsman of the first order. His spirit is quite classical. He commenced by making admirable copies of the Italian Primitives, notably of Fra Angelico, and the whole first series of his works speaks of that influence: portraits, heads of deep, mat, amber colour, on a ground of black or grey tones, remarkable for a severity of intense style, and for the rare gift of psychological expression. To find the equal of these faces—after having stated their classic descent—one would have to turn to the beautiful things by Ingres, and certainly Degas is, with Ingres, the most learned, the most perfect French draughtsman of the nineteenth century. An affirmation of this nature is made to surprise those who judge Impressionism with preconceived ideas. It is none the less true that, if a series of Degas's first portraits were collected, the comparison would force itself upon one's mind irrefutably. In face of the idealist painting of Romanticism, Ingres represented quite clearly the cult of painting for its own sake. His ideas were mediocre, and went scarcely beyond the poor, conventional ideal of the Academy; but his genius was so great, that it made him paint, together with his tedious allegories, some incomparable portraits and nudes. He thought he was serving official Classicism, which still boasts of his name, but in reality he dominated it; and, whilst he was an imitator of Raphael, he was a powerful Realist. The Impressionists admire him as such, and agree with him in banishing from the art of painting all literary imagination, whether it be the tedious mythology of the School, or the historical anecdote of the Romanticists. Degas and Besnard admire Ingres as colossal draughtsman, and, beyond all, as man who, in spite of the limitations of his mind, preserved the clear vision of the mission of his art at a time when art was used for the expression of literary conceptions. Who would have believed it? Yet it is true, and Manet, too, held the same view of Ingres, little as our present academicians may think it! It happens that to-day Impressionism is more akin to Ingres than to Delacroix, just as the young poets are more akin to Racine than to Hugo. They reject the foreign elements, and search, before anything else, for the strict national tradition. Degas follows Ingres and resembles him. He is also reminiscent of the Primitives and of Holbein. There is, in his first period, the somewhat dry and geometrical perfection, the somewhat heavy colour which only serves to strengthen the correctness of the planes. At the Exposition of 1900, there was a Degas which surprised everybody. It was an Interior of a cotton factory in an American town. This small picture was curiously clear: it would be impossible to paint better and with a more accomplished knowledge of the laws of painting. But it was the work of a soulless, emotionless Realist; it was a coloured photograph of unheard-of truth, the mathematical science of which left the beholder cold. This work, which is very old (it dates back to about 1860), gave no idea of what Degas has grown into. It was the work of an unemotional master of technique; only just the infinitely delicate value of the greys and blacks revealed the future master of harmony. One almost might have wished to find a fault in this aggravating perfection. But Degas was not to remain there, and already, about that time, certain portraits of his are elevated by an expression of ardent melancholy, by warm, ivory-like, grave colouring which attracts one's eye. Before this series one feels the firm will of a very logical, serious, classic spirit who wants to know thoroughly the intimate resources of design, before risking to choose from among them the elements which respond best to his individual nature. If Degas was destined to invent, later on, so personal a style of design that he could be accused of "drawing badly," this first period of his life is before us, to show the slow maturing of his boldness and how carefully he first proved to himself his knowledge, before venturing upon new things. In art the difficulty is, when one has learnt everything, to forget,—that is, to appear to forget, so as to create one's own style, and this apparent forgetting cloaks an amalgamation of science with mind. And Degas is one of those patient and reticent men who spend years in arriving at this; he has much in common with Hokusai, the old man "mad with painting," who at the close of his prodigious life invented arbitrary forms, after having given immortal examples of his interpretation of the real.
Degas is also clearly related to Corot, not only in the silvery harmonies of his suave landscapes, but also, and particularly, in his admirable faces whose inestimable power and moving sincerity we have hardly commenced to understand. Degas passed slowly from classicism to modernity. He never liked outbursts of colour; he is by no means an Impressionist from this point of view. As a draughtsman of genius he expresses all by the precision of the planes and values; a grey, a black and some notes of colour suffice for him. This might establish a link between him and Whistler, though he is much less mysterious and diffuse. Whenever Degas plays with colour, it is with the same restraint of his boldness; he never goes to excess in abandoning himself to its charm. He is neither lyrical, nor voluptuous; his energy is cold; his wise spirit affirms soberly the true character of a face or an object.
Since a long time this spirit has moved Degas to revel in the observation of contemporary life. His nature has been that of a patient psychologist, a minute analyst, and also of a bitter ironist. The man is very little known. His friends say that he has an easily ruffled delicacy, a sensibility open to poetry, but jealous of showing its emotion. They say that Degas's satirical bitterness is the reverse side of a soul wounded by the spectacle of modern morality. One feels this sentiment in his work, where the sharp notation of truth is painful, where the realism is opposed by colouring of a sober distinction, where nothing, not even the portrait of a drab, could be vulgar. Degas has devoted himself to the profound study of certain classes of women, in the state of mind of a philosopher and physiologist, impartially inclined towards life.
His work can be divided into several great series: the race-courses, the ballet-dancers, and the women bathing count among the most important. The race-courses have inspired Degas with numerous pictures. He shows in them a surprising knowledge of the horse. He is one of the most perfect painters of horses who have ever existed. He has caught the most curious and truest actions with infallible sureness of sight. His racecourse scenes are full of vitality and picturesqueness. Against clear skies, and light backgrounds of lawn, indicated with quiet harmony, Degas assembles original groups of horses which one can see moving, hesitating, intensely alive; and nothing could be fresher, gayer and more deliciously pictorial, than the green, red and yellow notes of the jockey's costumes strewn like flowers over these atmospheric, luminous landscapes, where colours do not clash, but are always gently shimmering, dissolved in uniform clearness. The admirable drawing of horses and men is so precise and seems so simple, that one can only slowly understand the extent of the difficulty overcome, the truth of these attitudes and the nervous delicacy of the execution.
The dancers go much further still in the expression of Degas's temperament. They have been studied at the foyer of the Opera and at the rehearsal, sometimes in groups, sometimes isolated. Some pictures which will always count among the masterpieces of the nineteenth century, represent the whole corps de ballet performing on the stage before a dark and empty house. By the feeble light of some lamps the black coats of the stage managers mix themselves with the gauze skirts. Here the draughtsman joins the great colourist: the petticoats of pink or white tulle, the graceful legs covered with flesh-coloured silk, the arms and the shoulders, and the hair crowned with flowers, offer motives of exquisite colour and of a tone of living flowers. But the psychologist does not lose his rights: not only does he amuse himself with noting the special movements of the dancers, but he also notes the anatomical defects. He shows with cruel frankness, with a strange love of modern character, the strong legs, the thin shoulders, and the provoking and vulgar heads of these frequently ugly girls of common origin. With the irony of an entomologist piercing the coloured insect he shows us the disenchanting reality in the sad shadow of the scenes, of these butterflies who dazzle us on the stage. He unveils the reverse side of a dream without, however, caricaturing; he raises even, under the imperfection of the bodies, the animal grace of the organisms; he has the severe beauty of the true. He gives to his groups of ballet-dancers the charming line of garlands and restores to them a harmony in the ensemble, so as to prove that he does not misjudge the charm conferred upon them by rhythm, however defective they may be individually. At other times he devotes himself to the study of their practice. In bare rooms with curtainless windows, in the cold and sad light of the boxes, he passionately draws the dancers learning their steps, reaching high bars with the tips of their toes, forcing themselves into quaint poses in order to make themselves more supple, manoeuvring to the sound of a fiddle scratched by an old teacher—and he leaves us stupefied at the knowledge, the observation, the talent profusely spent on these little pictures. Furthermore there are humorous scenes: ballet-dancers chatting in the dark with habitues of the Opera, others looking at the house through the small opening of the curtain, others re-tying their shoe-laces, and they all are prodigious drawings of movement anatomically as correct as they are unexpected. Degas's old style of drawing undergoes modification: with the help of slight deformations, accentuations of the modelling and subtle falsifications of the proportions, managed with infinite tact and knowledge, the artist brings forth in relief the important gesture, subordinating to it all the others. He attempts drawing by movement as it is caught by our eyes in life, where they do not state the proportions, but first of all the gesture which strikes them. In these drawings by Degas all the lines follow the impulsion of the thought. What one sees first, is the movement transmitted to the members by the will. The active part of the body is more carefully studied than the rest, which is indicated by bold foreshortenings, placed in the second plane, and apparently only serves to throw into relief the raised arm or leg. This is no longer merely exact, it is true; it is a superior degree of truth.
These pictures of dancers are psychologic documents of great value. The physical and moral atmosphere of these surroundings is called forth by a master. Such and such a figure or attitude tells us more about Parisian life than a whole novel, and Degas has been lavish of his intellect and his philosophy of bitter scepticism. But they are also marvellous pictorial studies which, in spite of the special, anecdotal subjects, rise to the level of grand painting through sheer power of draughtsmanship and charm of tone. Degas has the special quality of giving the precise sensation of the third dimension. The atmosphere circulates round his figures; you walk round them; you see them in their real plane, and they present themselves in a thousand unexpected arrangements. Degas is undoubtedly the one man of his age who has most contributed towards infusing new life into the representation of human figures: in this respect his pictures resemble no one else's. The same qualities will be found in his series of women bathing. These interiors, where the actions of the bathers are caught amidst the stuffs, flowered cushions, linen, sponges and tubs, are sharp visions of modernity. Degas observes here, with the tenacious perfection of his talent, the slightest shiver of the flesh refreshed by cold water. His masterly drawing follows the most delicate inflexion of the muscles and suggests the nervous system under the skin. He observes with extraordinary subtlety the awkwardness of the nude being at a time when nudity is no longer accustomed to show itself, and this true nudity is in strong contrast to that of the academicians. One might say of Degas that he has the disease of truth, if the necessity of truth were not health itself! These bodies are still marked with the impressions of the garments; the movements remain those of a clothed being which is only nude as an exception. The painter notices beauty, but he looks for it particularly in the profound characterisation of the types which he studies, and his pastels have the massiveness and the sombre style of bronze. He has also painted cafe-scenes, prostitutes and supers, with a mocking and sad energy; he has even amused himself with painting washerwomen, to translate the movements of the women of the people. And his colour with its pearly whites, subdued blues and delicate greys, always elevates everything he does, and confers upon him a distinctive style.
Finally, about 1896, Degas has revealed himself as a dreamy landscapist. His recent landscapes are symphonies in colours of strange harmony and hallucinations of rare tones, resembling music rather than painting. It is perhaps in these pictures that he has revealed certain dreams hitherto jealously hidden.
And now I must speak of his technique. It is very singular and varied, and one of the most complicated in existence. In his first works, which are apparently as simple as Corot's, he does not employ the process of colour-spots. But many of the works in his second manner are a combination of drawing, painting and pastel. He has invented a kind of engraving mixed with wash-drawing, pastel crayon crushed with brushes of special pattern. Here one can find again his meticulous spirit. He has many of the qualities of the scientist; he is as much chemist as painter. It has been said of him, that he was a great artist of the decadence. This is materially inexact, since his qualities of draughtsmanship are those of a superb Classicist, and his colouring of very pure taste. But the spirit of his work, his love of exact detail, his exaggerated psychological refinement, are certainly the signs of an extremely alert intellect who regards life prosaically and with a lassitude and disenchantment which are only consoled by the passion for truth. Certain water-colours of his heightened by pastel, and certain landscapes, are somewhat disconcerting through the preciousness of his method; others are surprisingly spontaneous. All his work has an undercurrent of thought. In short, this Realist is almost a mystic. He has observed a limited section of humanity, but what he has seen has not been seen so profoundly by anybody else.
Degas has exercised an occult, but very serious, influence. He has lived alone, without pupils and almost without friends; the only pupils one might speak of are the caricaturist Forain, who has painted many small pictures inspired by him, and the excellent American lady-artist Miss Mary Cassatt. But all modern draughtsmen have been taught a lesson by his painting: Renouard, Toulouse-Lautrec and Steinlen have been impressed by it, and the young generation considers Degas as a master. And that is also the unexpressed idea of the academicians, and especially of those who have sufficient talent to be able to appreciate all the science and power of such an art. The writer of this book happened one day to mention Degas's name before a member of the Institute. "What!" exclaimed he, "you know him? Why didn't you speak to me about him?" And when he received the reply, that I did not consider Degas to be an agreeable topic for him, the illustrious official answered vivaciously, "But do you think I am a fool, and that I do not know that Degas is one of the greatest draughtsmen who have ever lived?"—"Why, then, my dear sir, has he never been received at the Salons, and not even been decorated at the age of sixty-five?"—"Ah," replied the Academician a little angrily, "that is another matter!"
Degas despises glory. It is believed that he has by him a number of canvases which will have to be burnt after his death in accordance with his will. He is a man who has loved his art like a mistress, with jealous passion, and has sacrificed to it all that other artists—enthusiasts even—are accustomed to reserve for their personal interest. Degas, the incomparable pastellist, the faultless draughtsman, the bitter, satirical, pessimistic genius, is an isolated phenomenon in his period, a grand creator, unattached to his time. The painters and the select few among art-lovers know what considerable force there is in him. Though almost latent as yet, it will reveal itself brilliantly, when an opportunity arises for bringing together the vast quantity of his work. As is the case with Manet, though in a different sense, his powerful classic qualities will become most prominent in this ordeal, and this classicism has never abandoned him in his audacities. To Degas is due a new method of observation in drawing. He will have been the first to study the relation between the moving lines of a living being and the immovable lines of the scene which serves as its setting; the first, also, to define drawing, not as a graphic science, but as the valuation of the third dimension, and thus to apply to painting the principles hitherto reserved for sculpture. Finally, he will be counted among the great analysts. His vision, tenacious, intense, and sombre, stimulates thought: across what appears to be the most immediate and even the most vulgar reality it reaches a grand, artistic style; it states profoundly the facts of life, it condenses a little the human soul: and this will suffice to secure for Degas an important place in his epoch, a little apart from Impressionism. Without noise, and through the sheer charm of his originality, he has contributed his share towards undermining the false doctrines of academic art before the painters, as Manet has undermined them before the public.
CLAUDE MONET: HIS WORK, HIS INFLUENCE
With Claude Monet we enter upon Impressionism in its most significant technical expression, and touch upon the principal points referred to in the second chapter of this book.
Claude Monet, the artistic descendant of Claude Lorrain, Turner, and Monticelli, has had the merit and the originality of opening a new road to landscape painting by deducing scientific statements from the study of the laws of light. His work is a magnificent verification of the optical discoveries made by Helmholtz and Chevreul. It is born spontaneously from the artist's vision, and happens to be a rigorous demonstration of principles which the painter has probably never cared to know. Through the power of his faculties the artist has happened to join hands with the scientist. His work supplies not only the very basis of the Impressionist movement proper, but of all that has followed it and will follow it in the study of the so-called chromatic laws. It will serve to give, so to say, a mathematic necessity to the happy finds met by the artists hitherto, and it will also serve to endow decorative art and mural painting with a process, the applications of which are manyfold and splendid.