The official catalogue includes a brief notice listing the French artists who appear in the Fine Arts Gallery. The notice recalls that at the time of the opening of the 1867 Universal Exhibition, the French school had just lost its two leaders in painting, Eugène Delacroix and Ingres. In the last ten years, the ranks of those who followed them have thinned dramatically. The list is long of the eminent painters and sculptors of great pedigree whom death has struck: Almost all those of 1830 have disappeared; the masters of landscape, the Théodore Rousseau, the Paul Huet, the Corot, the Millet, the Diaz, have been swept away like the Schnetzs and the Couders, and how many names would be pressed under our pen if we had to count those who are missing today; the most diverse talents, the most beloved researchers, Louis Boulanger, Célestin Nanteuil, those enamoured of independent art; Gustave Ricard, the portraitist of thought; Pils, Chintreuil, Fiers, Dauzats; Octave Tassaert, who rediscovered, in a garret, the silver ray of Prudhon; Fromentin, Tournemine; Henri Régnault, the last to arrive, the youngest, the most unjustly struck down! And the stone cutters and bronze wielders, animating the material, making the marble smile, creating goddesses or tigers, the original masters, like Barye and Carpeaux, the learned artists like Perraud and Cabet. Nothing exists of them more than their works, but they are enough to keep them alive.
The Summary first pays these glorious artists a just tribute, then lists, not without legitimate satisfaction, the great works completed by our artists since the last Exhibition: the mural decorations of the Nouvel Opéra, the Palais de Justice, the Légion d'honneur, the Trinité, and Sainte-Geneviève. Certainly, the ceilings of Baudry and J.-P. Laurens, the frescoes of Puvis de Chavannes and Français, the grisailles of Élie Delauney at the Conseil d'Etat, etc., can be counted among the outstanding works. Marseilles, Amiens, the town hall of Poitiers, the theatres of Bordeaux and Reims have also been, for the last eleven years, decorated with admirable paintings. The enthusiasm of the official Note is here quite natural, but it goes beyond the limit of a very explicable satisfaction when it declares, with evident joy, that the present number of painters exhibiting or "delivering directly to amateurs and to the trade," amounts to at least 5,000. Five thousand painters! In truth, is this something to be proud of? Five thousand painters! Is the power of a school measured by its number, and not by its individual value and talent? Five thousand painters! In this number, how many artists are there in reality?
Ten painters, ten real painters, ten artists, touched by the devil, would certainly suffice for the aspirations, the artistic needs of a whole era.
Does a country, a whole country, often have ten painters to show the world? And we have at least five thousand! Five thousand delivering directly to the trade! Ah! the whole explanation is there! This very number is the condemnation of this growing legion of painters who practice a trade more than they follow a vocation and honour an art, and whose ideal, alas! is not a large place in the Pantheon, but a small, cosy hotel on the Champs-Elysées or on the Avenue de Villiers.
It is not - fortunately and in spite of the official note - by the number of its painters that the French school (if it is still a school) is remarkable and worthy of its success. What makes its value is the rare quality of certain works, the absolute originality of certain artists. Obviously, the conception of great things, the passion for what is superior in an art have given way to the cult of the piece, to the ardent pursuit of the processes of the craft, but we who would ask ten painters of a country, if we looked hard enough we would find twenty in France who deserve the attention of the critics.
France is very incompletely represented at the Champ de Mars. We could search the many rooms, but we would find neither Diaz, nor Millet, nor Rousseau. Spain raises a sort of altar to Fortuny. We disdain our most illustrious dead, and when paintings by Corot and Daubigny are sent, they are scattered here and there; they are hung in the corridors, like Daubigny's Moonrise. Gustave Courbet is represented by a single, much vaunted work which gives only a very incomplete idea of his proud temperament as a brush handler. Jules Dupré, Paul Baudry, Chenavard, Léon Cogniet, Robert Fleury, Couture, Puvis de Chavannes, F. Roybet and, to quote a painter who, after all, has a place in our school, Rosa Bonheur, sent nothing to the Universal Exhibition. Some people have been reluctant to throw themselves into this formidable hall where so many remarkable works seem to be lost and to melt away under an inclement light.
With five hundred selected paintings, France appeared triumphant in this tournament. For a long time, in the Exhibition, the frightened eye searched for beautiful works in the midst of the vast assembly of paintings of all values.
And the members of the jury, who were to award the prizes to each other, had chosen the best places, Corot, that admirable Corot, whose each painting made, in the midst of all these works, such a poetic and harmonious stain, Corot had his paintings scattered all over the place. We owed this dead man, we owed this master a place of honour. His paintings were placed at random, here and there, far from each other. It was the same for Daubigny, whose works were grouped together, but only at the end of the Exhibition. And Ribot? One of his paintings, a marvellous portrait of a young blonde girl, was relegated to the back of a door. The other, the Norman Cabaret, a superb painting that had been embellished by time, was hanging so high up that it could not be seen. Mr. Hubert Debrousse, to whom the Cabaret belongs, wanted to remove it from the Exhibition. Wouldn't he have had the right to do so? It seems that Ribot's paintings had originally been placed in the room where the paintings of M. Bonnat were displayed, but, according to some, they killed them. And that is why the Ribots were taken down and put, one in the devil's box, the other on the ceiling. Other paintings, those of M. Feyen-Perrin, had been relegated to the drawings. Mediocrities, on the other hand, were displayed alongside their masters and protectors on the cymaise.
The retrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings by the modern masters, which enlightened amateurs had had the good idea of opening in Durand-Ruel's galleries, was to show everything that was missing from the Champ de Mars. It was there that one could see how deplorably the French art exhibition had been organised. There were all those who were excluded or badly placed in the halls of our Universal Exhibition. There, Corot, Diaz, Daubigny, Delacroix, Millet, Courbet, Barye, Ricard, Théodore Rousseau, Decamps, all those dead men who are the honour of the painting of this time, appeared, not, of course, with the totality of their works, but with a selection of paintings, with canvases which were sufficient to show that they are and remain the undefeated leaders of our modern school.
There were really some pure masterpieces there, a View of the village of Sin, near Douai, by Corot, one of the master's most exquisite inspirations; a sketch by Eugène Delacroix, Doissy d'Anglas at the Convention on May 20, 1795, which gives, with the swarming of the invaded room, the very sensation of storm and terror of the fierce day of Prairial, - a thrilling vision of the Revolution that this extraordinary canvas; -- There were small paintings by Daubigny, as large as two hands and of incomparable finesse, sunny Diaz, ardently coloured landscapes by Paul Huet, studies of the sea, sunsets on the Meuse, and green horizons of springtime activity by Khintreuil, intimate dramas by Tassaert, the painter of suicides, who killed himself to remain faithful to his gloomy inspirations: There are some singularly powerful Courbets, under forests, rocky landscapes, a cliff at Etretat; above all there is an astonishing collection of J. - F. Millet; the Angelus, of a biblical simplicity, the Woman with a Lamp, and this Pig Killer, surprising, sinister and true, of an intensity of vigour and a colour quite admirable. And how the portraits, full of thought and penetrating reverie, of Gustave Ricard, hold you, with their Florentine painting aspects! The faces of friendly painters, M. Chaplin, M. Heilbuth, M. Gustave Moreau, are treated with a skilful mastery and without fuss. Next to this, a still life, a kettle, - a portraitist's challenge - gives the impression of the most perfect Chardin. It is something to be an eminent artist. Did I not speak just now of M. Ricard, who was a minister, who died in power (an uncommon adventure), and had, supreme honour, the most beautiful funeral a man can aspire to? Not three years ago. And now, speak of Ricard to someone, name Ricard, drop the name Ricard in a social conversation, you will be answered, for sure:
- Ah, yes, Ricard! I saw a very fine portrait of him, that of Mme de Calonne, at the Durand-Ruel exhibition. He was a master, unquestionably!
Thus the painter eclipsed the statesman. And that is what makes the powers inferior.
But what is also certain is that those glorious artists who had not been deigned to find a place in the official exhibition and who took refuge - the poor dead - in the salons of a private exhibition, were treated in a deplorable manner. Perhaps the living had dreaded the comparison with these great masters who had disappeared. The presence of Theodore Rousseau, Millet, Courbet, even Fromentin, would have been disastrous for many people who wanted to win and who did not want spectres, however illustrious, to compete for medals of honour.
It is no less true that when visiting this exhibition - less frequented, alas, than that of the Champ de Mars - the echo of the legendary song, written at Barbizon, on the album of the old inn, came back to the memory of more than one person, and that many people hummed the ironic couplet addressed to the facile triumphers who once carved out successes for themselves around Father Ganne's table, in the absence of Diaz or Philippe Rousseau.
Let us take advantage of the fact that they are not there,
Let's have fun, don't you think!
If Philipp Diaz, Dupré, Cabat,
Were here, we wouldn't be
The Barbizon song is true.
Daubigny was, like Corot, represented at the Champ de Mars. Corot, an ethereal painter, said Jules Dupré, as eloquent a talker as a great artist, Corot seemed to paint with wings on his back. Daubigny was less poetic; he was nevertheless an original figure. Going up the rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, on the right, a little above the rue Bréda, one sees a small house, obviously built at the time of the first empire, classical in appearance, like a clock from seventy years ago, and preceded by a small courtyard separated from the street by a gate. It was here that Daubigny worked. A small door, opening on the left on a narrow staircase, led straight to his vast studio. Every day one saw a man of robust appearance, with a full beard, a grey beard which gave him a rustic appearance, in the style of the poet Gustave Mathieu, push this gate, take the letters handed to him by his concierge, and pass through the door of his studio to get to work. It was Daubigny, Daubigny happy between his wife and children, one of whom, Karl, is boldly walking among the first of the new landscape artists. He remembered the old days, the hours of trial when, in order to live, he illustrated books, he drew, for Eugène Sue's Mystères de Paris, views of the Allée des veuves or the rue aux Fèves, of the cabaret du Lapin Blanc, which was even better than painting the tops of Spa boxes, or clock pictures, as he had first been reduced to doing for Robert, the watchmaker in the rue Portefoin.
Really, today's painters have a right to complain when they don't sell, as they say. Not to sell is not to sell a painting for ten or twelve thousand francs. At the prices at which some Americans have paid for genre paintings, how much should we pay for Eugène Delacroix's jewellery, if a new Delacroix were born to us? The fashionable and elegant painters of today, who belong to a circle, who wear white at premieres, who get a decoration as soon as they have three medals, - which can lead them in three stages, in three years, to a goal - which writers take twenty years to achieve, - the gummy painters of today, to tell the truth, complain about the difficulty they have in arriving! But those real artists who were called Jules Dupré, Théodore Rousseau, Diaz, Paul Huet, J.-O. Millet, suffered much differently! Jules Dupré painted mantelpieces for fifteen francs. Théodore Rousseau sometimes sold a masterpiece to get, not even bread, but tobacco. Géricault gave the son of Jamar, his dealer in colours and canvases, the Cuirassier, which is in the Louvre, saying to him: "I don't want to erase it myself. This cuirassier is yours if you give me a new canvas! Millet, the rustic and solid Millet, suffered more than all the others. He literally went several days without eating. He knew the days without bread during which he was still pursuing his dream. And they complain, those of today!" said one of the elders, shrugging his shoulders. They complain! And they call themselves artists! Merchants, milliners, traders, speculators, painters, that's all right! But artists! Come on, then! The last ones are dead!
I do not take the pessimistic joke literally; it is true, however. This Daubigny used to leave at night, on foot, with his friend Geoffroy Dechaume, to go, at dawn, to study the hillsides and apple trees of Valmonctois, near Ile-Adam! It was there that he had once been placed in the care of Mother Razot, and one of his most beautiful paintings is this House of Mother Bazot, which the artist, now a master, will paint with emotion in memory of his first steps taken in the amber of this thatched roof and under these large bushy trees!
At the Exposition Universelle, several works by this powerful naturalist, who loved and rendered the riverbanks, the great plains, the masses of trees, the mysterious moonlight, the silvery mornings and melancholy evenings with sovereign vigour, were on display.
Other absentees, - very glorious and very interesting - were the military painters, consigned to the door of the temple of peace. It was a great pity. M. Édouard Détaille, an admirable draughtsman, with a solid and nervous talent, precise, clear and with such an accurate vision, had sent to the Salon his Bonaparte in Egypt, a curious and quite remarkable reconstruction of the past, and M. de Neuville was forced to exhibit his masterpiece at Goupil's Bourget.
M. A. de Neuville could rightly be grieved. He had finished a canvas of a larger size than his last compositions, and of a considerably higher value. It is the denouement of this Combat du Bourget which was perhaps the most dramatic episode of the siege of Paris. The last defenders of Le Bourget, a handful of men, mobiles of the Seine and voltigeurs of the old guard, have just surrendered, after having defended themselves even in the church. The main street of Le Bourget and the area around the church were blackened by the swarming of German troops and their light guns, with their soft blue muzzles. French officers riddled with wounds, soldiers bleeding and exhausted, came out of their supreme battle stations, and the Germans stopped, as if astonished to see so few of them. In the midst of these heroic prisoners, one notices the beautiful martial head of Major Brasseur, who was the soul of this battle, and the face of Lieutenant Ozon de Verrie, who later became the historian of the harsh day. The debris of weapons and uniforms lies scattered on the smoking ground of the battle. Nothing here evokes the idea of hatred, but rather that of heroism and duty done.
This virile and true work - the best, for sure, signed by the popular painter of the Last Cartridges - deserved to be seen and has definitely made the reputation of M. A. de Neuville.
But it is time to judge, not the absentees from the Exhibition, but the present. The Exposition of 1878 was a singularly high-profile event for such high reputations. Henri Régnault will have sunk there, like Fortuny. It is obvious that Régnault's most famous paintings, the Juan Prim, the Execution in Granada, the Exit of the Pasha itself, appeared singularly dull. The brilliance has passed. The figures sink into the canvas, and seem to be without relief. It is true that we do not have Salome, which remains Régnault's most original and striking work, and it would be profoundly unfair to be severe on a young man who was brutally stopped by a stupid bullet at the threshold of triumph and life. We have seen, through the painter's letters, how many visions and dreams he carried in his skull that a bit of vile lead had to pierce. But this unfulfilled destiny has increased the artist's fame. Looking at the painter's pictures, one could still see the hero of Buzenval, as sculpted by Degeorge, the brown capote on his shoulders. The posthumous exhibition of his drawings, his studies, his watercolours, his projects, had given a high idea of the laborious valour of this young, impetuous, unfulfilled man. The growth of his memory was not only natural, but right. There was blood in Régnault's colour.
Today, one sees again paintings that are ten years old and judges them. One is almost tempted to agree with General Prim, who was so dissatisfied with his portrait and refused the painting. The superb ardour is still there, but this large blue-black ink-coloured horse and Juan Prim's tunic of the same tone make the canvas look like a stain; you would think that a writing case had been knocked over. In The Execution in Granada, the gigantic executioner is literally lost in the golden background of the painting, and the famous bloodstain, which has been unkindly compared to gooseberry jelly, looks like a flashy eye-patch. The small portrait of Mme de Bareth and the pretty portrait of Mme Duparc are more simply treated, but, as always, in the portrait of Mme de Bareth, the accessories, the toilet, the dress, the fan, take a more important place than the figure, which seems swallowed up. And the exit of the Pasha! I had kept a charmed memory of it, something like a dazzle. I see it again: it seems dull to me. There is elegance in such a grey horse, well stretched out and very fine, but I have already met him in Fromentin's paintings. In short, Henri Régnault's exhibition was a disillusionment for me. His watercolours alone support themselves. In the Harem Interior there are carpets of incredible richness and suppleness. One's feet would sink into this multicoloured wool. As for the characters, Louis Leloir treats them with greater delicacy. But, once again, let us not judge this admirable artist's temperament by what Régnault has left. The luxuriant flower was barely open. We have only had its springtime, and the astonishing colourist has, moreover, been summed up, revealed and affirmed in this Salome, which has been imitated too much since its appearance, but which remains the decisive work of the young master who tragically died and which, in the history of our art, marks a new note and a step forward.
It is very interesting to see again, after many years and from a distance, - in the half-light of a fraction of posterity - the works that moved us and that seemed made for the long term. The exhibition of M. Meissonier, though very interesting, is inferior to that of 1867. Since then, this great painter of the infinitely small has fallen into a meticulous and dry style. His reîtres of old, his readers, his amateurs, his philosophers of the eighteenth century, his ruffians carried away by the fury of the Rixe and his fine listeners to a reading at Diderot's were more richly and widely painted. Perhaps M. Meissonier comes to too much care in his manner of painting. When he composed his Sign Painter, he first executed on a panel as large as life the Bacchus seen in perpective and from the side that the dauber is finishing. This is all very well. But the exaggeration of this method is rather amusingly mocked by the studio legend that Meissonier pours powdered sugar on the dry earth when he has to paint a snow effect. M. Meissonier is a unique painter of his kind, and some of his paintings are as precious as the best Flemish. I admire him as much as anyone, but I would like him to have a little of that breadth, that superb carelessness which he was able to bring to an admirable page, the Barricade, the astonishing and dramatic aspect of which struck us so much at the Eugène Delacroix sale.
I do not find this breadth in all the paintings exhibited at the Champ de Mars.
The portrait of Alexandre Dumas is decidedly dry and hard. The Portrait of the Sergeant lacks the charming envelope of air. It is unpleasantly crude. On the other hand, what a little masterpiece Moreau and his chief of staff Dessoles before Hohen-linden! Standing on a snow-covered knoll, the two generals, in the loose and severe uniforms of the republic, whipped by the wind, survey the depths of a forest where it seems that one has, through the bare branches, the sensation of the enemy swarming. A picturesquely dressed and proudly camped hussar holds the reins of Moreau's and Dessoles' horses. There is nothing finer, and at the same time more nervous, better drawn, more admirably treated, than this painting, one of the master's best. How could M. Meissonier have exhibited, next to it, this Portrait of Mme ***, a sketch, a pochade without any of his ordinary qualities? He has often been reproached for not knowing how to paint women, and the pretty drawings of the Contes rémois had victoriously answered such a criticism, but the Portrait de Mme *** would totally explain such a reproach.
The landscape of Antibes, with its two horsemen (M. Meissonier and his son, I believe) on the sun-baked road, its sea moiré with blue and green, reminds one of M. de Nittis's Route de Brindisi, but it has less light and accent. Nor do I admit that the perspective is exact which, with one stroke, makes the figure on the right, on the shore, appear so small, almost minuscule. The effect may be mathematically correct, but to make it acceptable, an atmosphere was needed, a fullness of air which gave the very sensation of remoteness, the proportion of the planes.
M. Meissonier sent several views of the Midi, the Chemin de la Salice, the Joueurs de boule, which are more raw than brilliant, more illuminated than luminous. They are small jewels, no doubt; but the gold is not of the highest quality. The beaches of Nice or Antibes, by M. J.-C. Meissonier fils, are also remarkable, and, as for the effect of the sun, the impression of the heat released, the rissolement of nature, as Charles Dickens says in Little Dorritt, I find all this more warmly rendered in the only painting by M. Victor Cousin exhibited at the Champ de Mars and which the painter calls to the August There the sky is intensely blue, the wheat is yellowing and the harvesters are bending under the relentless sun, while a mass of wood stands out, motionless, in the heavy air. I do not know of many better and truer landscapes than that of M. Cousin.
M. Meissonier's Cuirassiers, with their 1805 uniforms, are superior to his landscapes. The painter worked for a long time on this picture which preceded, I believe, in his studio, the Friedland. The cuirassiers are in line, coldly waiting for the moment to charge. Their squadron, drawn to the line, makes the most masculine figure. Each physiognomy is a very lively, very French and very military type. Under the uniform, however, one would find the peasant, the big guy from Alsace or Lorraine. The officers, recognisable by their silver epaulettes, are close to their men.
One of them strokes his horse. One of the cuirassiers wipes his helmet, as if to adorn himself before the battle. In front of the stern line of these horsemen comes, at the pace of his mount, a general followed by hussars and, in the background, very small soldiers, of extraordinary finesse, spirit and movement, march past, artillerymen taking up their positions, infantrymen with their rifles on their shoulders. These last shots, in this painting as in that of Friedland, are superbly treated. M. Detaille, in his Bonaparte in Egypt (at the Salon), has followed the example of his master on this point. In short, this painting of the Cuirassiers is an absolutely remarkable work, and this infantry in particular, marching across the horizon with such a cheerful step, is of astonishing execution. I will also praise the ground, so deeply ploughed and which reminds us of the muddy ground where Meissonier sank Napoleon's staff in his 1814. M. Meissonier is a personality high enough and original enough to deserve the great medal of honour that the jury awarded him. He sees life through the big end of the telescope, but he sees it well and paints it excellently. The medal of M. A. Cabanel will be more contested, not because his work is not excellent, but because he had already obtained it in 1867, - like M. Meissonier, moreover, - and that, finding himself judge and juror, he had to put himself out of the competition out of decency. In truth, by dint of hearing excessive praise of chic painters, partisans of the spot for the spot, trivialists and impressionists, I would come to defend, against all the jokes that run through the studios and the disdain of artists who affect to see in them only bourgeois and medallions, these learned draughtsmen who are called Bouguereau or Cabanel. I know very well what harms them in the eyes of the new artistic generations: it is their exclusivism, their voluntary narrowness of judgment. "J.-F. Millet would send paintings to the Salon and I would still refuse them!" said M. Bouguereau to a friend, who obviously believes himself, with similar stubbornness and blindness, to be a high priest of taste in danger. What is detrimental to these masters, in the opinion of independent artists, is the concern they take for themselves and their studio, rewarding only their pupils, and holding a teaching shop.
I see everywhere," said Stendhal about the Salon of 1824, "old artists, seriously occupied with seeing if young people have more or less "imitated their own way of painting. And this is precisely the question. David thought that Prudhon was a mediocre painter. M. Bouguereau is logical in hating Millet (who must have liked him little), but he would be odious in refusing him. I repeat, it is this exclusivism, this system of art closed and confiscated for the benefit of a few, which has irritated the new generation against those who still call themselves members of the Institute.
But if the narrowness of some is blameworthy, the contempt of others is ridiculous. M. Bouguereau is not so mediocre, and M. Cabanel is, I think, as good as Y impressionism and the impressionists. Speak, it is true, of M. Octave Feuillet to a disciple of M. Zola, and you will see what you will be answered. In short, M. Cabanel sent to the Exhibition some of his most tasteful portraits, and among them, this Duchess of Luynes, surrounded by her children, of whom he said modestly, I am assured, to a lady who asked him for his portrait: "It is the last word in art. To which the lady replied finely: "For me, I will be satisfied with the penultimate.
The portrait of Madame Mercy-Argenteau, that beautiful redhead painted on a background, has remained one of M. Cabanel's best, despite the strangeness of the pose, which is somewhat that of a card-shooter. The others, since their first appearance, seem to me to have liquefied and melted a little.
M. Cabanel has added to these works a large unpublished composition intended for the church of Sainte-Geneviève (Panthéon). The columns that cut this painting into three sections, in a fresco tone, detract from the overall effect, which is good. The composition of M. Puvis de Chavannes has more emphasis, the figures stand out with greater majesty, but this Saint Louis, King of France, by M. Cabanel, is no less considerable and superior. The Saint Louis on the right abuses, it is true, the right to be ill in Palestine. He is bloodless and disfigured. I like him better seated and dispensing justice. The composition on the left, Blanche of Castile, surrounded by scholars and teaching her son, is quite pretty. The clerk bent over his large book and reading is a figure of superb design. It is by the drawing of such a work, vast and very populated, that it is recommended. The correctness is irreproachable, and if the physiognomies lack a certain character, which M. Wauters, for example, would have given them without falling into archaism, on the other hand, everything is staged with superior care, taste and mastery. I would willingly compare this immense page, seen from afar, to a large carpet, a little discoloured, but singularly harmonious, where pale blue, slightly faded red, and soft grey blend together in soft tones. There is no criticism in my epithets - this general tone is voluntary on the part of M. Cabanel, and this Saint Louis, a sort of gigantic triptych, does the greatest honour to the painter of the Florentine poet and of the dreamy and sickly girls of the banks of the Arno.
M. Hébert, who also loves the pale complexions and rimmed eyes of girls who push their dreaming to the point of fever, has exhibited a wood nymph, appearing naked and healthy against a dark background, brightened up by the smile of an iris, and this healthy, superb nymph, with her right breast kissed by the light, is truly of a superb tone. Anemia has left the poetic brush of M. Hébert. He has left the mal'aria in Rome, or at least he has chosen from among his works exhibited since 1870, those which have the most juice and flavour. The popular Italian Muse is a beautiful girl with a tanned complexion and large black eyes. The Knitter, wrapped in her little limousine, works in the depths of the woods, in the chiaroscuro with which M. Hébert wraps his figures as if in mystery. There is an obvious poetry and a personal charm here. The Nymph of M. Hébert seduced me, and his other paintings gave me great pleasure to see again. He is the melancholic painter of faded loves, and it is with the yellow ray of Sainte-Beuve that he caresses, as with a golden halo, the visions of his dreams.
Certainly, M. Hébert could have claimed one of the great medals of the competition. He did not want it. M. Bouguereau was less discreet. Many of the works in Mr. Bouguereau's exhibition were known to us, but there were six that the public had not judged. The most remarkable is the Nymphaeum. In a pure spring emerging from a cave, thirteen nymphs (they are not superstitious) bathe, pink and naked, while indiscreet people look at them through the foliage. The view is coquettish. All these flesh is satiny, all these feet are pink, these blond or brown heads also have exquisite smiles and enamel eyes. This is not life, but a dream, a charming display of silky bodies, delicate hips, kindly throats. The swaying nymph is as coquettish as the Spring of M. Cot, a pupil of M. Bouguereau, Do not ask these nudes for the thrill and the attractive charm of reality. These nymphs, so purely drawn, look like mythologies of keepsakes.
This is M. Bouguereau's fault: he sacrifices the real to the pretty, even when he paints the Big Sister putting stockings on her little brother. The angels in his Soul in Heaven are as pretty as sweethearts, with pink and blue wings, comparable to those of butterflies. "Have you ever seen angels?" said Courbet. His Charity, with a headdress like that of Paul Dubois, and reminiscent a little too much of André del Sarte's, is really beautiful in its calmness, but the pretty invades the children it takes in. I would give all these dappled babys for a love of Paul Baudry or a little devil with deep eyes of Carolus Duran.
And yet M. Bouguereau knows how to be true, too. In his Portrait of Madame B...., a fat lady crossing her fat hands, the hands themselves, these fingers where a ruby sparkles, are surprisingly well drawn and modelled. And is it not also alive, this Portrait of Mr. B... which is, I believe, the portrait of Mr. Bouguereau? The Pieta, Flora and Zephyrus, all the other works of the artist were judged at the time of their appearance. "It's pretty ugly," said, too severely, a painter of great talent. The truth is that M. Bouguereau seeks to please and does please. It is his glory, it is his strength. Others say that it is his punishment.
Mr. J.-J. Henner, in his Naiads, is the opposite of Mr. W. Bouguereau in his Nymphaeum. He is alive, he pursues the very flavour, the impression of the flesh. He gives nature the character proper to his talent, he has his own vision, but nature and truth are always there, before his eyes. In a model previously dressed and coiffed in the modern style and now naked before him, he sees an ancient nymph, a Magdalene or a Biblis, but it is always the woman he has before his eyes and not a wax figure. His painting, that admirable paste which renders human clay with such power and charm, gives, instead of the tableaus of workmanship and sale hung in our annual Salons, the sensation of the paintings of an ancient master appearing among the contemporaries to show them the irresistible force of conscience and simplicity. In his little village near Basel, Henner was not far from Holbein, who was his first admiration and from whom he learned the truth; then, later, it seems that on his way to Rome, he stopped at Parma, conquered and seduced by Correggio, who taught him all his secrets.
It is, indeed, Correggio or Virgilian, this vision of naked nymphs bathing their adorable bodies in the mystery of a water hidden by a bunch of trees and melancholy by the approach of a soft twilight. The pale sky, the scorched grass, the landscape surrounding these six nymphs with blond or red hair, is the most beautiful that Henner has ever painted. It is like a powerful summary of his style. And with what a savoury and loving brush of his art are caressed these female bodies, these exquisite backs, these thick and proud hairstyles, more chaste than clothes! The nymph who, with a charming movement, is watching her hair hang down, is perhaps the most adorable of this poetic and lively group. One feels, in front of this canvas - the greatest, I believe, that M. Henner has painted - in a superior atmosphere of colour and art. The master here thought neither of the fuss nor of the direct action he could have on the crowd; he saw only his own work, a vision of his youth, a sketch conceived in Rome and executed years later, when a friend came to ask him for a vast canvas for a dining room. It was like a dream that M. Henner carried within him, saw again, in the state of a project, hanging on the wall of his studio and which he realised with a quite admirable happiness and talent.
Strange thing, this man who does not work for the crowd, but for the artists, and first of all for himself, for the satisfaction of his conscience, imposes himself on the crowd itself, which does not always go to the drama, to the battles and to the anecdotal painting, and which the absolute truth strikes strongly. The other day I saw some workers stopped in front of this portrait of a woman, the woman with the umbrella, standing out in black on a green background, and, blonde, looking straight ahead with clear eyes, so astonishing. Well, the accent of life of this figure held, captivated these visitors. All M. Henner's portraits have this lively sincerity: MUo D..., Mrs. Herzog, Mr. Karakéhias, Mr. G. Hayem. Add to this the charm and that personal note of the artist that others seek to imitate and which is a gift of nature. The entire exhibition of Mr. J.-J. Henner, which is not complete, for the Luxembourg has kept masterpieces, will have given a high idea of such a master, today in the full force of his talent. The Evening, so penetratingly poetic, the Dead Christ, so vigorously and superbly modelled, Biblis changed into a spring, are superior pages. I stopped for a long time in front of the Woman on the Black Couch, which was exhibited in 1869 under the title Reclining Woman. Asleep on a satin divan, the left arm gently abandoned in a languid pose, the right arm folded under the head it supports, the woman lies in chaste nudity. The breast, the skin, the flesh, are treated masterfully. The ear is of incomparable grace. The whole figure, executed as if in a single stroke, has retained a harmony and gained, with the patina of time, a delicious colouring. The foot alone, as M. Henner himself remarked, the foot, retouched and remade, has turned green! It would be necessary, alas! for a painting to be removed in one go as a figure is enveloped in one glance. The Woman on the Black Couch, which is in the Mulhouse Museum, remains one of the capital works of Henner, this poet of women, this great painter of the flesh. And if medals of honour (which prove nothing) were to go to anyone, it was to him. But what do these awards prove? Honours pass, works remain. And when a man disappears, it is not on his titles, it is on his works that he is judged. Posterity does not say to its subjects: "What have you been? But it asks them: "What have you done? M. Henner will not be embarrassed to answer, or rather his paintings will answer for him.
I am looking for painters who live independently and face to face with their work. They are rare, no doubt, but one can still find them. M. T. Ribot is one of them. The Good Samaritan, - one of the admirable paintings in the Luxembourg - is really painted by a worker's hand. It is the brush of a master who has kneaded this flesh, made these wounds bleed, twisted this dolorous face, sunk these bodies in this learned and powerful half-light. What a page, and how right it was to praise it when it was exhibited in 1870! M. Ribot's painting is, moreover, one of those which gain singularly in age. A distinctive sign of the most male: the painter of the Good Samaritan works for the future. I have seen religious paintings by him, a Jesus among the Doctors, which the years have tripled in value. People seem to hold a grudge against him for his vigorous talent. His paintings are deplorably placed, sacrificed. It is a scandal. A Young Girl, blonde, charming, painted with that solidity which Ribot gave to his old Norman peasant woman with eyes as clear as the sea, the Mère Marieu, exhibited at this year's Salon, - this "young girl" has been exiled to a corridor, behind a door, in an almost invisible place, where I saw her by chance. And the Norman Cabaret, that painting so violently treated, so astonishing, so attractive, it was perched at the top of a room, it was placed out of sight, and who could recognise there this solid page which, placed on an easel, in a favourable day, brightly illuminates a salon of Mr. Debrousse? In truth, Mr. T. Ri-bot would have the right to complain, and, if he does not, it is because he is one of those who find, with reason, that all the complaints in the world are vain if they cause a brushstroke to be lost.
M. Antoine Vollon is one of those who will have grown in fame following the Universal Exhibition. His Curiosities (Salon of 1868) and his Sea Fishes (Salon of 1870), which come from the Luxembourg Museum, his Woman of the Pollet, in Dieppe, are paintings of considerable value. No one has ever put more life into still lifes. A superior landscape painter, a solid painter of the human figure, as his lean and black Spaniard, with bony fingers holding a cigarette, - a better-drawn Goya - proved at the Salon, M. Vallon knew better than anyone how to render the steel sheen of an armour and the slime of a fish. What a surprising and magnificent painting these Curiosities are! There is a heap of riches, weapons, golds and jasper, and M. Vollon has rendered it all with superb breadth. The preciosities of M. Biaise Desgoffe are chinoiseries next to these helmets, these cuirasses treated by M. Vollon with the great allure of a Velasquez. I have always, when visiting the Luxembourg, made a truly charming stop in front of this great and beautiful painting. And the sea fish! You could take them in your hand. You could dig your fingernails into them. It is the very truth. The admirable Woman of Pollet, vigorous, healthy, panting, walking boldly on the shore, has seemed even more remarkable to us since M. Vollon exhibited it. She
stands out with a masterly accent on so many anaemic paintings! Certainly, master painters are not numerous; but, in our contemporary school, among all those who handle the brush, I do not know of a more powerfully gifted, more solid and more remarkable colourist than this painter, whose slightest piece is a work of art.
I also like very much the exhibition of M. Élie Delauney. His portraits have an intensity of life and a severity of model that is quite striking. M. Delauney, this painter of style, gives to human physiognomy an accent of reality that is striking. Such a figure, of a brick tone, surprises with a pulsating je ne sais quoi which makes one shout, without having seen the model, at the resemblance. The Portrait of Mlle L., the profiles of the young Desvalières, the Portrait of M. Legouvé reading, so lively, so true, so astonishing, are pages that count, but I don't know if I don't still prefer to them those striking paintings, the Plague in Rome and David triumphant, of an antique feeling so deep and so personal at the same time. The David, young and handsome, with the pride of a terrible ephebe, seems to stand out against a tapestry background, and the Plague, gaunt and hideous, striking with his sword at the doors of the houses pointed out to him by an angel with the gesture of a judge, is of a frightening possibility. The dead fallen on the flagstones, the sinister perspective of the back of the mountainous and deserted street, where, to drive away the miasmas, a fire has been lit, which rises sadly in the thick and stinking air, everything here is treated with a masterly hand, and makes this painting one of the most remarkable of our classical school.
Studied paintings, good history paintings, are not frequent, and M. B. Ulmann, who could exhibit several, has sent only one, but it is a lasting one. It is Sylla at Marias, a vast canvas with multiple characters and which honours both the researcher by science and the painter by talent. M. Ulmann, who has been justly praised for his Loreley and his Ovation to M. Thiers, which he intends to execute in large scale, as a counterpart to Couder's Opening of the Estates General, shows, with his Sylla at Marins, what is sober and solid in him. He sacrifices nothing to fashion. Once, with his Prussians pillaging a farm, he obtained a very lively and very honest success; but, a painter of history and concerned with absolute art, he returned to his historical creations: Etienne Marcel, César in the Senate, Thiers in the Chamber. He is right, his way is there! And Sylla in Marias shows that all serious and strong works survive the fads created by the whims of genre painters. Nothing more classical, nothing more academic than this Sylla at Marins, where Sylla, Sulpicius, Marius, J. Brutus elbow each other in a terrible tragedy, and these togas and these Romans have nevertheless remained more alive than anything that has entertained us for ten years. It is sober, firm, learned, well understood, admirably well composed. Ah! composition! Knowing how to compose! A virtue that is being lost! Mr. Ulmann possesses this virtue to the highest degree. His Sylla and his Thiers are proof of this, years apart. Sylla, draped in his toga, is superb. Thiers, seated at his bench, is striking and true. I am happy to have to point out and praise, among so many makers of pieces and painters of small fantasies, a true painter of history.
I am very embarrassed. There are many interesting works that I would like to analyse and yet I have come to the end of my visits to the Exhibition. So many paintings are asking for my attention! And I have said nothing about sculpture, one of the superiorities of our country. In addition to the many rooms devoted to French art, there is the pavilion of the city of Paris, where the paintings of M. Henri Lévy, the Preaching of Saint Denis and Saint Denis at the tomb, the two sober and learned canvases, the Chancellor de l'Hospital and Colbert and Louis XIV by Robert Fleury (who was unable to complete for the month of May a large painting representing an episode in the life of Peter the Great), the graceful compositions of M. Emile Lévy, the Fêtes de la Ville de Paris and the Fêtes de la Ville de Paris, are all on display. Emile Lévy; the Engagement, the Marriage and the Family - destined for the town hall of the seventh arrondissement - and M. Bonnat's Christ, and his vigorous and superb Saint Vincent de Paul taking the fetters of a galley slave, all works of considerable interest, would easily keep me for a long time. But what! one must limit oneself, choose and be satisfied with giving an overall view.
M. Gérôme and M. Français have been highly rewarded. The landscape painter, who executed two paintings of masterly science in the church of the Trinity, is the representative of the classical landscape corrected and naturalized by the modern school. His truly superior work was worthy of such an award. But do we know what award the jury gave to Jules Dupré in 1867? A second class medal. And then talk about judges and competitions?
Mr. J.-L. Gérôme has many interesting paintings, all polished and finished, in that smooth workmanship which often resembles painting on porcelain. No one draws better or has more spirit. The Grey Eminence, the women in the bath, the Satan at the door of a mosque are all familiar to us. The dancing Bachi-Bozoucks seem to me to be new; it is a very curious picture, with well-studied costumes and quarters of oxen cooking on fires whose yellow flames look like flower petals. The Saint Jerome, dry and thin, with skin as soft as an old glove, lying next to his lion, and the Lion alone, with his fixed, green, almost phosphorescent eyes, which M. Gérôme has painted from life at the Pezon tamer's, are very amusing. The naked women of the Turkish Bath, with their smooth white bodies, will be found to be pretty little ivory statuettes; but on the other hand the group of Gladiators which M. Gérôme exhibits, as a sculptor, are very amusing. Gérôme exhibits, as a sculptor, is of a powerful and masculine workmanship. It is at once the work of a scholar and an artist. I was told that whenever he missed a detail of costume or armour, M. Gérôme would leave the Boulevard de Clichy for Pompeii, go there to sketch what he needed and return to the studio by express train to continue his work. M. Gérôme is an artist for whom the respect of his colleagues will never bargain for his conscience or his dedication to those who are just starting out.
M. G. Boulanger's Summer Bath in Pompeii bears a strong resemblance to M. Gérôme's Turkish Bath. They are the same little women pleasantly soaped. The antique scenes of M. Boulanger are pleasant, learned and graceful. They could be taken as illustrations for Emile Augier's Pied Piper, in the days when neo-Greek and Roman were fashionable in the theatre and in the workshops. Courbet's brush has swept all that away.
M. J. Breton is not Courbet, but he is a sincere naturalist.
M. Jules Breton pleases us by the particular charm he gives his peasant women. Their rusticity is not without grace and their grace without truth. La Sieste, with its peasants and pretty girls asleep as if crushed, some of them sleeping with their breasts swollen at the foot of a tree, is of a powerful truth. The little sketch of the Midsummer Fire is worth the painting, and such a Breton peasant carrying a candle and going to the pardon is a finished piece. M. Jules Breton sent, with his Fountain, which won him the great medal in 1872, a painting that is out of the ordinary, the Fishermen of the Mediterranean. It is a marine: on the edge of the blue sea, fishermen are busy pulling a boat towards the shore. On the pebbles, orange peels; in the distance, the snowy Pyrenees. The fresh colour of this painting is most happy and true.
M. Paul Dubois, a painter, is a sort of Henner, less free and more keenly seeking correction. We all know his portraits, but his Monument de Lamoricière places him unquestionably in the first rank of all living sculptors. This monument, in which bronze and marble are combined with such complete art, is a masterpiece. The martial figure of the dead man, lying in his shroud like a soldier in his cloak, the Charity and the Military Courage, with which we are familiar, are now completed by the Meditation and the Faith, still executed in plaster, but which will soon be in bronze. The Meditation - represented in the fine, reflective guise of an old man - appealed to me less than the Faith, that pure, youthful figure raising its clasped hands with such fervour. Charity, so calm, so maternal, has as its worthy counterpart this lively and charming figure, and with this monument the cathedral of Nantes will possess a work comparable to the most beautiful pieces of the Renaissance, to the tomb of Louis XII at Saint-Denis, and to the tomb of Dreux-Brézé in Rouen.
M. Bonnat has exhibited too many paintings, too many portraits. The process appears. One immediately discovers the manner. All the figures are enveloped in a chiaroscuro that recalls the brilliance of electric light. Mr. Thiers, Mrs. Pasca, Mrs. P. B... and her blue satin dress, and this other lady, very pretty, dressed in black satin, yellow gloves on her hands, a yellow flower in her toilet, her shoulders bare, stand out against a luminous background which seems to be produced by JablosckofF lightning or rather sulphuric acid vapours. The painter's talent is both robust and graceful, but the uniformity of the style is tiring. One could mistake these portraits for enlarged photographs. Don Carlos, smoking his cigarette, his hand on the hilt of a sword where a fleur-de-lis shines, is well painted, but it is the gold of the facings, the braids of the uniform that M. Bonnat has treated with the most care. The rest (oddly enough) is in shadow. The most beautiful thing in M. Bonnat's exhibition is his series of little Italians. But what is most remarkable is his sketch after M. Robert Fleur g le père. It is an unfinished piece which is worth all the finished paintings. The head is superb, the eyes are only two black holes, but they live, this emaciated face pulsates; the old man, with his hand in his waistcoat, is true as truth. Ah! if M. Bonnat would push his works less far and stop at this point!
M. Tony Robert Fleury, the son, appears at the Exhibition with excellent small portraits of women, his Pinel à la Salpêtrière and the Dernier four de Corinthe, which earned him the medal of honour in 1870, and which remains a noble, great and learned page, worthy of all praise. It can be said that the painting has won for eight years.
M. Jean-Paul Laurens presents himself, with his beautiful exhibition, as a robust, severe personality, inclined to violent and bloody scenes, which his early education explains well. His friend, M. Ferdinand Fabre, the vigorous novelist, has just recounted, in the Roman d'un peintre, the tried and tested childhood and the sober and proud life of M. Laurens, and these pages of history are among the best of those of the remarkable, profound and serious storyteller. Such was the destiny of the man, such is the work of the painter: something male, suffering and austere. One would take Mr. J.-P. Laurens for one of those Spanish masters who enjoyed the spectacle of the strong, the sight of the pain braved by the martyrs. The darkest tragedies do not frighten this powerful painter. An old Norman peasant woman, fierce and cruel, Victoire Tranchart, is dying. J.-P. Laurens, through the open window, approaches, studies the dying woman and throws a Study on the canvas which is a masterpiece. Like the proud, he has contempt for death, and he renders it with all its horror and all its majesty! One could study, at the Champ de Mars, the complete work of Laurens, from this superb Saint-Ambroise instructing Honorius and the Jesus driven out of the synagogue, which date from 1870, and this Pope Formosa, exhumed by order of Stephen VII, which was a success of the Salon of 1872, and, with the Execution of the Duc d'Enghien, drew definitive attention to the name of the painter, up to this dead Marceau which gave him glory. The austere Cardinal, red on a red background, the melancholy and charming little Martha, with her grey dress, the Forbidden, Robert the Pious excommunicated, the Funeral of William the Conqueror, the Pool of Bethsaida are all there with their solid qualities. Look at the portrait of the author, painted by himself for the Gallery of the Offices in Florence. When you see this head full of will and firmness, male and sympathetic, you will understand Laurens' talent. The workman explains the work. M. F. Fabre tells us that a painter said, sending J.-P. Laurens as a child: "Here is Michelangelo as a child! And, really, there is something of Michelangelo's face in this bony and powerful head. Entirely devoted to his work, living quietly - but not without fame - between his wife and children, today painting A Child Emperor, his forehead crushed by the crown, tomorrow illustrating in an unforgettable way The Imitation of Jesus Christ and the Merovingian Chronicles by Augustin Thierry, M. J.-P. Laurens is one of the most robust artists of this time, one of the most sincere and most justly honoured. The Exhibition of 1878 will only have increased and affirmed his valiant reputation.
A good portrait is a beautiful thing. The portrait painter bequeaths to the future the physiognomies of his time. He is both historian and novelist in the analysis of feelings and the painting of characters, in the modes and types. Is it not like the history of the Second Empire that M. Carolus Duran has told us with his portrait of Mme Feydeau, his portrait of Mme de Pourtalès, his Lady with a glove, so beautiful, so lively and so simply posed? We find at the Champ de Mars most of the paintings that we judged at the last Salons: Au bord de la mer (Mlle Croizette), l'Enfant bleu, Dans la Rosee, the breathing, thinking and writing portrait of M. E. de Girardin, and this adorable Marie-Anne Carolus Duran, brown and smiling, which is one of the painter's masterpieces. To all these famous canvases, M. Carolus Duran, this master portraitist, has added a Portrait of Gustave Doré, seated, with his brush in his hand, in his work coat, cutting out his alert physiognomy on a green drapery, and a small Portrait of M. Pasdeloup, large and highly coloured, which is a marvel of execution
M. Jules Lefebvre was to send to the Exhibition a Diana in the Bath which he had been "perfecting" for two or three years, but he wanted to take the workmanship of this canvas, his favourite work, a step further, and we do not find at the Champ de Mars (but with great pleasure) anything other than well-known pages, already appreciated, all marked with that delicate and elegant corner, with a rare purity of line and expression which is like the mark of the Mignon painter: it is the famous Reclining Woman, luscious and provocative, with her healthy complexion of a beautiful brunette standing out against a red background (has it not been said that the model was Adah Menken, the horsewoman poet? ); it is Truth, radiant in its majesty and dressed in nudity, if I may say so; it is Dream, it is the red-haired Magdalene of the 1876 Salon. All these works have a high character and form a truly superior exhibition. And what profound truth, what feeling, not only of the face, but of the soul, of the look and of the thought, in these portraits, in the taste of Flandrin, which M. Jules Lefebvre has brought together there; Miss L. L., with such a deep intensity of life, with her pale blond hair and her arms showing through her black dress; Mrs. A. D., the two portraits of men, so vigorously treated, and this Portrait of a Lady in Black, Mrs. G. C., who struck us so vividly at the 1872 Salon, and whose pale, deep blue eye penetrates to the very depths of the spectator's gaze. The artist, who is able to render the scrutinizing glow of two eyes in this way, is not only a very skilful and admirably gifted painter, but also a delicate... and serious observer of human nature. And one is a master portraitist and a master artist only with this virtue of analysis.
Since the Exhibition, Mr. Jules Lefebvre has completed three paintings that the public will not see, and it is a great pity. They are three figures of women: one is an Italian woman with brown hair casting its shadow on an exquisite forehead and black eyes; the other is Graziella sitting and dreaming on the rocks of Capri. Nothing is more attractive than these two large figures, of a charming and tight execution; nothing, if not the small profile of an English girl, which the painter has just completed at the same time. And all this to be not, or to be admired by foreigners. The painters must suffer in parting with such works.
The battle paintings are few in number, since Messrs Détaillé, de Neuville, Berne-Bellecour, etc., have been forced to withdraw their canvases. M. Protais appears with small soldiers on the march, and M. Dupray with a Battle of Waterloo (Ney rallying his cavalry, very-moving, very-alert and of a singular truth). The day after Waterloo by M. Bayard and an Episode of Waterloo by M. Philippoteaux have taken the place of the episodes of the Franco-Prussian war.
On the other hand, there are many landscapes at the Champ de Mars and at the Salon.
Landscapes are one of the powers and glories of this time. In this genre, one can find many admirable paintings in the French galleries: the House of the Bazot mother in Valmondois, with its peaceful smoke rising in the twilight which covers the hillside; the Chaumes of Ségé; the vigorous canvases of Guillemet; such a painting by Gosselin where the influence of Jules Dupré has passed; the Sea of M. Allongé; Chintreuil's Espace, luminous, green and sunny, with a flock of sheep trotting across the expanse as the moon rises; M. Hanoteau's Moulin et l'Appel; M. Harpignies', Jules Hévau's, Lansyer's, Mesgrigny's landscapes, Mouchot's views of Venice, and many more.
M. Paul Flandrin and M. de Curzan are still fighting for the classical landscape. It is too late, Corot has killed antiquity by invigorating it.
Corot's Green Bank, enclosed by trees, a stream flowing under a canopy that brings to mind Virgil's verse:
Est iter in sjlvis ubi cœlum condidit umbra ;
The exquisite, silvery Little Diggers, the master's setting skies, grey and orange, these ancient dances, these moonlights, these paths near some pond, seduce you and penetrate you, Corot keeps his rank here. But could we not exhibit another painting than this rather overdone Wave by Courbet, whose water, running towards two beached boats, has no transparency and seems, with its border of foam, a jasper scroll? Not to mention that the sky is heavy and seems marble, that this Wave is far from the oozing Rock exhibited a short while ago at the Laurent Richard sale. It is impossible to form an idea of Courbet from this overpriced Wave.
Beautiful landscapes are those of M. Pelouse, and one of the most admirable canvases of the Exhibition is the Château du Jura by M. Pointelin, a solid, sincere, moving and penetrating talent who will make, who has already made, and with an undeniable personality, a profound feeling, his great place in the first rank of contemporary painting. What poetry and peace in this corner of the world and in this melancholy evening! Mr. Ed. Yon, the author of Le Petit flot and La Seine près de Gravon, is yet another of the newcomer landscape painters who continue the great tradition of the naturalist masters. No one like him renders the transparency of water, the freshness of a riverbank and the shivering of poplars in the wind.
I would have to point out many more works, and the most highly rated, as they say, the still lifes of M. Philippe Rousseau, for example, and those of Bergeret, the Alsatian idylls of M. Jundt, the cats of M. Eugène Lambert, the fine Parisian women of M. Toulmouche, the vaudevilles of M. Vibert, the solidly treated figures of M. Rousseau, and those of M. Rousseau. Vibert, the solidly treated figures of M. Laugée, the dry but learned works of M. Leconte-du-Nouy, the antique paintings of M. Emile Lévy, the Gauls of Luminais, the portraits of M. Machard, the American women of M. Saintin, the Neapolitan women of M. Sain, and the fine paintings of M. J. Worms.
Mr. A. Kreyder is a master in the art of painting flowers and fruit. The Flowers of the Field, his Field of Wheat are true masterpieces. A bunch of grapes, a branch of lilacs or roses, and the Alsatian artist has made something seductive, appetizing and eternally fragrant.
I usually join Mr. Hector Le Roux to Mr. Jules Lefebvre in my artistic preoccupations, not because their manner is similar, but because a lively friendship unites them and because they have placed their ideal very high. M. Le Roux, who gave perhaps his two best paintings at this year's Salon, is represented at the Champ de Mars by a selected collection of antique scenes, of a charming poetry and intimacy. He is like a sort of Corot of old Rome. His silver painting brings to life the traditions of past centuries, the Danaids or the Vestal Tuccia, filling a sieve with water from the Tiber, or the Miracle at the Good Goddess's, or Claudia Quinta, the Vestal, bringing a boat into the harbour. The Serenade, the Messalina and the Toilet of Minerva Poliades are worthy of this fine, learned and sought-after talent: a Benedictine of the brush, a sincere artist and a kind man. Add a personal painter, which is the great quality.
Mr. Gustave Moreau, in a time when originality is becoming increasingly rare, certainly knows how to remain himself, and his excavations in Mantegna's domain do not lead him to encounter anything base and vulgar. There is strangeness and incomprehensibility in his brilliant rebus, but the artist is always on his feet, and these learned jewels are not a piece of junk that anyone could make. Gustave Moreau's visions could be mistaken for the dreams of an oriental poet, translated onto canvas by a primitive Italian or some Hindu painter. Doesn't the executioner in the Salome have a truly superb sculptural appearance? And, in this Struggle of Jacob with the Angel, is Jacob not well planted and would we not take this terrible angel, with his strange halo and his idol eyes, for the vigilante imagined by a seer? The Hercules fighting the Hydra of Lerna is beautiful as the elegant force put at the service of the law. The guessed Sphinx, falling defeated, into the abyss full of corpses, is the worthy counterpart of the beautiful painting dedicated by the painter to the memory of Théodore Chassériau. And who would be able to imagine a more curiously impossible landscape, more enchantingly learned, than that which frames the Moses exposed on the Nile? Hindu rather than Egyptian architecture, the blossoming of lotus flowers, a stunning setting, glowing like carbuncles, with its gems and jasper, a poet's dream, a reconstruction of the past according to the method of M. Flaubert in Salammbô, or else. Obviously, painting has another purpose than the representation of these visions, and phantasmagorical art should not be abused; but Gustave Moreau, a nature of elite and faith, is no less one of the original and, I would say, respectable figures of an era far too devoted to vulgarity and easy success.
M. Louis Leloir is of all the genre painters the most delicate and the finest. No one treats watercolour like he does. The White Mice, the Rest, the Pied Piper, the Blue Bird are, in truth, little marvels. They have grace and charm, fantasy and life. Compare the watercolours of Eugène Lami to these lovely things! There is a whole era between these two men. And what could be prettier and finer than the Baptism, one of Leloir's
one of Leloir's best paintings? The Favourite, the Meal, the Fishermen of Le Tréport, with their soles in their hands, so true, so attractive in tone and design, form, with the Temptation (Salon of 1869), a choice exhibition. The Temptation shows us a poor monk in a monk's robe being pushed towards sin by adorable and irresistible daughters of the devil. The flesh, the nude, are here, like the watercolours, savourily treated! It is not the lunar colour of Tassaert's temptations, it is more lively, and retains the same charm. One would swoon if one met in a foreign gallery a painter like Mr. Lenoir.
And Mr. John-Lewis Brown! Wherever one comes across one of his paintings, one sees a pretty, picturesque and cheerful spot. This is how one recognizes the artist of the race. No matter how many of Corot's canvases are scattered here and there, they make a hole of light in the wall. Mr. J.-L. Brown's country scenes, his women in yellow skirts, his horsemen in red clothes, his lunch in the woods, his falconers, his dogs and his parrots burst forth like vigorous artistic notes. All this is very personal, elegant, luminous, charming* And the pretty watercolours! M.V.J.-L. Brown is an individuality; this is the only praise I can give to his harmonious talent.
In a corridor, a colourful, pompous painting, Cacheté de rose et de jaune by another independent, M. Isabey, has been placed, not far from a work by M. Signol, also exiled there. In the side rooms are the magnificent drawings of M. Lhermitte, and the eternal and admirable biblical scenes of M. Bida (among others) the Meal of the Harvesters, with its beautiful Jewish women with regular features?
M. Feyen-Perrin has been exposed as badly as M. Ribot. It seems that they wanted to make both of them pay for the ribbon they had earned. Mr. Feyen-Perrin had nevertheless sent some choice works: the Return of the Oyster Fishery in Cancale, one of the truly original and personally poetic canvases of the Musée du Luxembourg, the excellent portraits of Mr. Mollart and Mr. Alphonse Daudet and this Sea Flower, which is one of the most charming inspirations of his pastel and now of his brush. These exquisite works have been scattered here and there, but at least M. Feyen-Perrin gains from it that one seeks him out to enjoy this seductive, thoughtful and lively painting of the author of Orphée massacré. In the end, therefore, 11 achieves a double success.
The little Cancalaises by his brother, Mr Eugène Feyen, are also very pleasant.
Among the young and hopeful, Mr. Bastien Lepage exhibits the Portrait of my grandfather, the Commandante and P Annunciation to the shepherds. This last painting served as a competition for the Prix de Rome. All the talent of M. Sébastien Lepage is in the realistic facture of the wrinkled and robust hands of the old shepherd. The author of Les Foins already appears in this strange painting where he mixed strict truth with the poetry of a missal. Mr. G. Becker's Saint Joseph has just the qualities of this Annunciation, but his Respha chasing the ravens has darkened, like Mr. Sylvestre's Locust, which began with a subject of Si-galon treated in the Sigalon style. The Flood, by M. Roll, the author of a beautiful portrait of M. Jules Simon, is better supported, and Mahomet II, by M. Benjamin Constant, seems to have gained in brilliance, in vigour, in virtuosity. MM. F. Cormon, Léon Glaize, F. Humbert, Lucien Mélingue, H. Pille, Priou, A. Hirsch, E. Renard, who has not, up to now, fulfilled all the promise of his Portrait de la grand'mère, J. Steinhell, who gives the Middle Ages a very lively accent, sent in the works that brought them to the attention of our last Salons, but many new names are missing: M. U. Butin, the painter of robust sailors; M. Duez, who knows so beautifully* how to understand modernity; M. G. Clairin; M. Le Blant, whose Death of Elbée has just made his name, are missing from the catalogue. I would also have liked to see there M. Manet and his followers, M. Degas, the author of a portrait of Pagans as beautiful as a Holbein, who would complete, by an independent note, the concert of colour given by the French school.
M. Paul Baudry is represented only by the drawing of the diploma of the awards to be given at the Exhibition. The composition is very pretty and there are little geniuses there who remind us of the loves of the Opera. M. Baudry, with one of his great compositions, competed in front of the crowd and snatched success from M. Makart.
In short, we asked for only twenty famous and worthy painters, and France has shown us, in varying degrees, more than that. This Exhibition of 1878 shows, once more, her artistic superiority. One would wish these painters a higher ideal, to take on greater works, not to say, as Courbet did, pointing to his fingers: "La peinture, c'est çà! No, it is not only that! Painting is the soul, it is thought, it is passion, it is life - it is not only craft and skill, it is art and inspiration. In painting, as in literature, let us not get used to admiring only the workmanship and the piece. Light and a higher breath! Ideas, above all, the idea that animates and alone gives life to the material.
This elevation, which is often lacking in our painters, we find at least in our sculptors. The Tomb of Lamoricière, by M. Paul Dubois, Youth and Thought, by M. Chapuis, the Gloria Victis and the Genius of the Arts, by Mercié, are sincere, simple and moving works, with a lively breadth and an unaffected elegance which do honour to a school and a country. It is towards Renaissance Italy rather than Greece that our sculptors seem to turn. They prefer expression to stiffness, even majestic stiffness. To be more accurate, we must say that it is nature, life, that they study more closely, giving it that splendour of truth that Plato used to define beauty*. An old definition, always new and always accurate. Why choose what is low in what is true? The sunbeam is as true as the mud puddle.
M. Guillaume, who does not appear in the Official Book, has nevertheless sent works of unquestionable superiority: Orpheus in bronze, of a strange expression and a high feeling which recalls certain visions of Gustave Moreau, a quite exquisite Psyche and a Bonaparte, artillery officer, of profound vitality. Not to mention the Roman Marriage, a worthy counterpart to the young Gracques. To these compositions, M. Guillaume has added busts treated with that learned, sincere and vigorous virtuosity which characterises the eminent artist: Y Archbishop Darboy, M. Baltard and a superb portrait of François Buloz, the founder of the Revue des Deux-Mondes. There is, in this solid physiognomy, which the marble brings to life, an expression of will and strength that is truly admirable. The mouth full of firmness, the skin of the neck, the left eye with its drooping eyelid are pieces treated with noble mastery. And talk about realism next to this healthy, strong and stylish truth!
M. Barrias has, at the Champ de Mars, his Oath of Spartacus, a pretty Young Girl of Megara, a spinner, exhibited in 1870, and remarkable busts, among others that of Mme Ollivier. Gabet's beautiful marble, One thousand eight hundred and seventy-one, is a worthy reminder of a valiant, learned and convinced artist. M. Chapu is worthily represented by the Jeanne d'Arc and his Monument to the memory of Berryer. The young master is one of those whom we salute and love. The official statues of M. Crauk, the Corybante of M. Cugnot, the Narcissus and Arion of M. Hiolle, -- one of the maintainers of the French school of sculpture
of the French school of sculpture, - the works of these newcomers, already distinguished, MM. Lafrance, Idrac, H. Lemaire, with his busts so lively, his Femme de Sonnino, which reminds one of Bastianini's terracotta seen in the Louvre, Tony Noël and his Baigneuse sortant de l'eau, a marble unfortunately stained with black spots, Icard and his David, Schœnewerk, whose Jeune Tarentine twists her marble body rolled and broken by the wave, are also part of this group of sculptors who worthily support and further ennoble this noble and great art. Compare the foreign sculptors with our French artists. What a difference! In passing through the English gallery, I was nevertheless struck by an energetic statue of Cartyle, signed by M. Boehm. But we are far from our French.
M. Delaplanche found a truly modern inspiration when he conceived his lively group, l'Éducation maternelle, which will perhaps be a milestone in contemporary art.
Nothing is more beautiful than the nude, the nude alone is amiable! the sculptors would say. Mr Delaplanche has dared to dress his characters, and he has done a striking work. We find, next to his Maternal Education, his Era after Sin, his Music, of such poetic inspiration, the Message of Love and the bust of Mme Doche. With his robust appearance, M. Delaplanche is one of the most delicate of our sculptors.
An absolute delicacy is M. C. Degeorge, exquisite and fine nature, shy and deep. His Bernardino Cenci is one of the most charming works in the Musée du Luxembourg. This marble breathes, lives with a tender, melancholic and yet young expression. The portrait of Lucien and the excellent Ligurian, the Youth, of Aristotle, bear witness to the rare talent of M. Degeorge who, as a medallist, also exhibits, in the same frame, true masterpieces of composition and finesse.
The exhibition of Mr. Paul Dubois is composed of his Eve, his Narcissus, the portraits of Messrs. Donner, Parrot and Paul Baudry, without counting the Tomb of Lamoricière. It would be impossible to bring together many such remarkable works. One would be tempted to say of M. Dubois what Balzac said of Victor Hugo: "He is a great artist, let us say no more about him.
Are there many statues worthy of the Tarcisius, Christian Martyr, and the Vainqueur aux combats de coqs, by M. Falguières, who, when he handles the brush, signs a page as robust as his Lutteurs? What a delicate and dolorous grace in the tortured body of the poor little martyr! And what gaiety, what impetus, what life in the young Victor, all joyful, carrying his rooster and beaming with his victory! The Neapolitan improviser is dull next to this Winner of admirable vitality, agility and movement. And remember that when M. Falguières wants to give rest, reflection and thought, he signs his beautiful statue of Corneille. M. Falguières, who was Mercié's master, is one of the most eminent of those chosen ones who make marble breathe and bronze throb.
M. Mercié exhibits his David which, from the start, gave him his reputation, and this pretty little marble Juno which is both a jewel and a work of art. Next to it, the Gloria Victis, one of the proudest works of the time, shines with all the elevation of a high inspiration.
Charming medallions or bas-reliefs and the dazzling trophy of the Arms of Perseus recommend the name of M. Soldi, who was happily inspired by Cellini.
Nothing is more valiant, bolder, or more vigorous than the two plaster groups by M. Cain, Lion and Lioness fighting over a boar, and the Combat of Tigers. Since Barye, no one has made the beasts roar like M. Cain. There is a rare power in these fierce struggles, and the sculptor who handles lions and tigers in this way, like a tamer, is a rare artist with a valiant personality.
More reduced in size, tighter in execution, Mr. P.-J. Mène (one of the justly popular names in French art) gives his picadores or toreadors, his horsemen, his falconers, his horses with their fine necks and which seem to neigh, a singularly lively and true expression of life. These elegant statuettes and groups of bronze or wax are true masterpieces. And for years Mr. Mène has been giving the public similar masterpieces. He has, in the Champ de Mars, five of his most exquisite works, and his African Hunter and his Matador of the Salon have the same charm, the same truth and the same vitality. M. Mène has, moreover, like true and profound artists, a personal and unobtrusive good grace that attracts. I will come back, one day, to this physiognomy which has produced so many original statuettes and whose hunters, pikes, horses and dogs are neither Barye's tigers, nor Frémiet's bears, but Mène's, that is to say works whose nervous vigour, quite superior, excludes neither finesse nor wit.
Mr. G. Deloye, the author of the figure of Austria and of an admirably decorative Saint-Marc, sent only two busts to the Champ de Mars, an elegant portrait of a woman, treated in that very French taste, a great actor whose name is inscribed on the marble of the Town Hall of Le Havre.
I shall at least mention the names of Messrs. Etex, the author of the monument raised to Ingres, Doublemard, Aimé Millet, A. Laoust, Moreau-Vauthier and M. Moreau, Perraud, who died last year, Goutherin, Marcellin, Maillet, Mme Claude Vignon, who sent a marble, a Fisherman with a sparrowhawk Vasselot, MraJ Bertaux, MM. Tournois, the admirable sculptor of Perseus, Prouta, - and I am forgetting others, - to be more or less sure that I am not forgetting any artist worthy of mention. But can one answer for involuntary omissions?
I have therefore completed this review, one of the seductions of the Champ de Mars.
All in all, it seems to me that, in spite of its failings, art still holds its own alongside the marvels of industry, earthenware, fine furniture, bright fabrics, the art (I say art) of upholsterers or ceramic workers. Its only fault is that it materializes as if to compete with matter on its own ground. Once again, with the exception of sculpture and a few rare and noble exceptions, what dominates today is the craft. We have seen this too often, even when trying to guess at the smallest efforts and do them justice. Painting has become a profession for the five thousand French painters (there are probably fifteen thousand) who live I don't know how and sell their products I don't know where. Without doubt, it is permissible for the artist to live from his art as the priest lives from the altar:
I know that a noble spirit can, without shame or crime Draw a legitimate tribute from his work.
But all labour must not be subordinated to profit. The sculptors, - who live on little in general, - are precisely those of the artists who hold their flag highest. I would like painters to think a little less about the public, which they despise, about journalism, which they disdain and worry about, about sales, which is their ideal. Exhibitions, salons, criticism, noise, fashion, medals, are perhaps what harm art and commercialise it. An artist needs neither the Salon nor the street; his exhibition is his studio. At the time when Leonardo was making the Mona Lisa, there were no Salons or medals. Today, everything is subordinated to immediate success. So reputations are lost like a fire of straw.
A great artist, a little too disdainful, and who shuns annual exhibitions, is wont to say:
-Why should I go to the Salon? Is there a single painting superior to those in the Louvre?
The joke is unfair. There is, at least, the struggle, the research, in the salons and the exhibitions. One attends, with emotion, the advent of young renowned artists. They are greeted and encouraged. Too often they abort and fail to live up to your hopes; but what happens then? It is that when you leave your contemporaries, whom you have not disdained, at least, you go to the Louvre to see Titian and Rembrandt and Veronese again, just as after the performance of a fashionable play you often feel the invincible need to reread the classics. A little fresh snow after so many spicy stews. And here we find Molière and Corrége with pleasure. It is good to re-immerse oneself in eternal art after temporary art, like throwing oneself into the salty air of the sea after long, tired winters.
This is precisely what we are going to do.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878