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Painting

Furthermore, the qualities and defects of French painting—the predominance in it of national over individual force and distinction, its turn for style, the kind of ideas that inspire its substance, its classic spirit in fine—are explained hardly less by its historic origin than by the character of the French genius itself. French painting really began in connoisseurship, one may say. It arose in appreciation, that faculty in which the French have always been, and still are, unrivalled. Its syntheses were based on elements already in combination. It originated nothing.

One element of modernity is a certain order of eclecticism. It is not the eclecticism of the Bolognese painters, for example, illustrating the really hopeless attempt to combine the supposed and superficial excellences, always dissociated from the essence, of different points of view. It is a free choice of attitude, rather, due to the release of the individual from the thraldom of conformity that ruled even during the romantic epoch.

Well, then, speaking thus absolutely and positively, the cardinal defect of the Institute sculpture—and the refined and distinguished work of M. Mercié better perhaps than almost any other assists us to see this—is its over-carefulness for style. This is indeed the explanation of what I mentioned at the outset as the chief characteristic of this sculpture, the academic inelasticity, namely, with which it essays to reproduce the Renaissance romanticism.

It is a sure mark of narrowness and defective powers of perception to fail to discover the point of view even of what one disesteems. We talk of Poussin, of Louis Quatorze art—as of its revival under David and its continuance in Ingres—of, in general, modern classic art as if it were an art of convention merely; whereas, conventional as it is, its conventionality is—or was, certainly, in the seventeenth century—very far from being pure formulary.

But to go back a little and consider the puissant individualities, the great men who have really given its direction to and, as it were, set the pace of, the realistic movement, and for whom, in order more conveniently to consider impressionism pure and simple by itself, I have ventured to disturb the chronological sequence of evolution in French painting—a sequence that, even if one care more for ideas than for chronology, it is more temerarious to vary from in things French than in any others. To go back in a word to Manet; the painter of whom M.

The French sculptor may draw his inspiration from the sources of originality itself, his audience will measure the result by conventions. It is this fact undoubtedly that is largely responsible for the over-carefulness for style already remarked. Hence the work of M. Aimé-Millet and of Professors Guillaume and Cavelier, and the fact that they are professors. Hence also the election of M. Falguière to succeed to the chair of the Beaux-Arts left vacant by the death of Jouffroy some years ago. All of these have done admirable work.

Fanciful as the Louis Quinze art seems, by contrast with that of Louis Quatorze, it, too, is essentially classic. It is free enough—no one, I think, would deny that—but it is very far from individual in any important sense. It has, to be sure, more personal feeling than that of Lesueur or Lebrun. The artist's susceptibility seems to come to the surface for the first time. Watteau, Fragonard—Fragonard especially, the exquisite and impudent—are as gay, as spontaneous, as careless, as vivacious as Boldini.

In fine, the impressionist has his own conventions; no school can escape them, from the very nature of the case and the definition of the term. The conventions of the impressionists, indeed, are particularly salient. Can anyone doubt it who sees an exhibition of their works? In the same number of classic, or romantic, or merely realistic pictures, is there anything quite equalling the monotony that strikes one in a display of canvasses by Claude Monet and his fellows and followers? But the defect of impressionism is not mainly its technical conventionality.

M. Emmanuel Frémiet occupies a place by himself. There have been but two modern sculptors who have shown an equally pronounced genius for representing animals—namely, Barye, of course, and Barye's clever but not great pupil, Cain. The tigress in the Central Park, perhaps the best bronze there (the competition is not exacting), and the best also of the several variations of the theme of which, at one time, the sculptor apparently could not tire, familiarizes Americans with the talent of Cain.

With Greuze and Chardin we are supposed to get into so different a sphere of thought and feeling that the change has been called a "return to nature"—that "return to nature" of which we hear so much in histories of literature as well as of the plastic arts. The notion is not quite sound. Chardin is a painter who seems to me, at least, to stand quite apart, quite alone, in the development of French painting, whereas there could not be a more marked instance of the inherence of the classic spirit in the French æsthetic nature than is furnished by Greuze.

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