Watercolour painting, painting with coloured dust, are like two charming sisters, beautiful with the beauty of the devil, dapper, coquettish, and it must be added a little frivolous and often ill-bred. It will still be, if you like, a Parisian art that blooms in the hot greenhouses of the artists' studios of the Avenue de Villiers; art without consistency, fashionable art of which one must be careful not to question the underbelly; there is none; it blooms at the fingertips, charming the eye without telling it anything; art that is sometimes spiritual, on condition that one does not ask too much of it. Only those succeed who have received the gift at birth; a solid education is more detrimental than useful; it leads to correcting defects which are qualities of the species, to softening the follies of the profession which are their charm, as unconsciousness is the charm of childhood.
But... let's iron our gloves and enter, not without having first put fifty cents in the ballot box (it's for the French watercolourists' pension fund). Immediately, on the right, we see the eternal cardinal of Mr. Vibert, who welcomes us with his most gracious smile. We note with pleasure that the excellent man has not changed: twenty years have passed over his head without shaking him; we find him firm on his hocks and still paunchy in his beautiful red paper dress. The years have not dimmed his mocking verve; he laughs, he still laughs with his thirty-one teeth: I say thirty-one and not thirty-two, because the artist, an expert in contrasts, would have been careful not to show us two continuous semi-circles of immaculate ivory, a dentist's sign! And then, let's not forget, all this is painted from life: I particularly recommend the empty alveolus, it's screaming with truth.
Two more steps and we enter Mr. Worms' Spain; it is dark as in an oven, and a funeral tune is played on the guitar. Anyway, it is said to be full of local colour. Fortunately, here is something that will put a little cheerfulness in our eyes. The bright flowers of M. Lemaire, of M. Due/., of M. Victor Gilbert, of M. Morand: your sunny landscapes of M. Zuber, of M. Béthune, the parks of M. Jourdain, the fireworks of M. Besnard, already named: the cavalcades of M. J.-L. Brown. We take pleasure in following M. Jeanniot's studies of the Parisian street, with soldiers so well observed. M. Béraud leads us to the theatre, and we attend the performance given to us by the spectators, a play which is often better than the other, especially when it is told by an artist of this value. Here is Mr. Heilbuth again: with the brush and wash in hand, he retains all his advantages; the pastel serves less well, as we have said, his undeniable talent. Very interesting also are the works of Mr. Friant, one of the good painters of the future, and even of the present; of Mr. E. Adan, who adds a touch of feeling to all his paintings. Make way for the young! Let us greet Mr. Français, the last of the painters who reads Virgil; Mr. Harpignies, heir to Poussin, and, as such, a little sad not to be able to don the bright and colourful costume of the modern watercolourist.
Even if I were to be stoned, I confess that I take only a mediocre pleasure in contemplating the cats of Mr. Eug. Lambert's cats; I always see them prowling about in the legs of Mr. Vibert's cardinals; they have too much spirit for mere beasts. And then, what a sad coat!
The witty and easy drawings, in watercolour and gouache, which M. Détaille exhibits, will have their usual success; M. Le Blant, whose drawings do not need to be in watercolour to take on their full value, will also be celebrated. One can say whatever one wants and especially whatever one can with a few strokes of the pen or pencil. See the sketches made from nature by M. Cazin, are they not as suggestive as his most successful paintings? Moreover, we are dealing here with an artist who is almost alone today of a lost species, that of the "room painters". Mr. Cazin does not paint from nature, he is content to stroll in the countryside and take notes in his notebook: figurative notations of forms and movements of the land, colouring programmes that should contribute to the transcription of the harmonies he sees. With this and a lot of talent, one enters his studio and makes canvases that seem more natural than those of the piece painters. M. Cazin thus creates intellectual landscapes which are nowhere to be found, but which have haunted the brains of all daydreamers some fine evening; his success can be explained by the undeniable fact that the need for the ideal was keenly felt in contemporary painting.
Before ending this quick stroll through the gallery of the French Watercolourists' Society, I must mention some artists whose aesthetic is quite different, which does not prevent them from having talent. I am referring to Maurice Leloir, A. Marie and Delort, sworn painters of pleasant scenes borrowed from past centuries. Do you want Renaissance; do you prefer the twelfth or the eighteenth century (between us, it is the latter that does best in watercolours)? Talk to these gentlemen: they are admirably matched. The authenticity of the accessories reproduced is guaranteed on the invoice; you will have a "period" shoe top, rapiers and salads that cannot be attacked. All the documents are borrowed from the archives of the Hôtel Drouot. Such a provenance should silence the jealous suspicions of the critics.
© Exposition de Paris - 1889