« AnteriorContinuar »
But it is not our present purpose to discuss the moral or political aspects of either nation. We allude to these in passing, merely to show that war should not preclude thought, or even action, in other directions. To permit it to do so would be but repeating the fatal error of one-sided enterprise, which has done so much toward bringing upon us the present distress. And as war is a vigorous stimulant to intellectual activity, it may be hoped that, among the many changes in our ideas and enterprises which it may eventually produce, art itself may take firmer root here, as it has under similar conditions among other nations claiming to be civilized and refined. Timid minds might suggest waiting for a more propitious moment to urge its claims. But where would now be mediæval art, had France, Germany, and Italy taken similar counsel of their fears, when their national unity and manhood were developing amid civil war. They carved and painted and built with all the more zeal and faith because of their trials. Those marvels of painting, sculpture, and architecture which are their present pride, and contribute so powerfully toward their national unity, by perpetuating in everlasting beauty and truth the ideas and aspirations of their youth, were created during dire struggles such as we seem likely ever to be strangers to. In the general expansion of mind which ensued from the agitation of great questions, art secured a beneficent ascendency, contributing largely to refinement of manners and exaltation of life, and forming, as it were, a confraternity of ideas, or a sort of universal "peace society." Thus it happened that art in its highest significance has been respected when little else was spared by human passions. Independent of the sanctity which religious association cast around art at that period, there was, furthermore, an acknowledged demand, based upon a widely diffused æsthetic taste for objects of beauty. Wherever such existed, like sunlight, they were the common heritage of enjoyment of all. Hence a brotherhood of thought and feeling obtained by means of the influences of art. And so deeply ingrained into the constitution of most European and Oriental races have become the love of the beautiful, and the repose of mind which it induces, that governments are compelled to provide largely for its satisfaction. But in our
own case there is as yet no such call. Accordingly, government takes no notice of this element of human nature, except occasionally under the pressure of private interest or ambition. It is well, perhaps, that for the present it should be so. For, possessing neither knowledge nor taste, whatever it did would, as we see by what it has attempted, only provoke the ridicule of our children, and furnish eyesores for generations to come. But in view of our future, it behooves every American penetrated with a love of art to do all he can to keep the sacred fire aglow in the hearts of his countrymen. It will be no light labor, especially under the disadvantages of the present hour, to bring about a general recognition of high art, with its consequent enjoyment. But God has implanted in every human soul the instinct of the beautiful, and faculties for its guidance and cultivation. These only need to be stimulated to arouse a new sense of exquisite enjoyment, such as a mind apathetic in regard to art has never conceived of.
At no previous period of our national existence have there been more important questions at issue than now. The success or failure of democratic freedom, as opposed to aristocratic domination, is the great point which we are now determining. More than ever do we require the refining and ennobling influences of high art to counteract the too rigid strain of the mind tending almost exclusively toward the development of material strength. That is strong only as it represents the right. We are making history anew, based upon the loftiest principle of civil government,-justice and freedom alike to all. Heroic action is ripening out of heroic thought. If we would perpetuate the trials and triumphs of our time in forms of living beauty, we must bid Art do it. To her alone has Heaven confided the precious gift of a universal tongue.
We cannot create art by a magician's wand. We can, however, provide the means of instruction by which genius and taste in all communities are most frequently inspired to work. In order to do this, it concerns us to know what other nations have done to supply the æsthetic craving, and how far their example is pertinent in our case. Our inquiry on this point now will be confined to painting.
The most common means of popularizing art and cultivat
ing a general taste is by galleries or museums. But even in Europe these have been only quite recently established. Before 1780 there were only three, those of Dresden, Florence, and Amsterdam. As early as the fourteenth century associations of painters had been formed, like that of Florence, A. D. 1350, which was the origin of the present Academy of Fine Arts of that city. But this institution did not possess a gallery until 1784. Indeed, public galleries were not in vogue until long after art itself had degenerated into that impotency and insipidity which preceded its revival in the present century. True, there were noble and royal collections like the Pitti, Borghese, Modena, etc. To these, however, the public had only partial access. But as the churches and public buildings of that period still retained altar-pieces and other important paintings in those positions for which they were originally designed, the people did not miss as much as they otherwise would have done the less important easel pictures of the same masters, in the private collections of their rulers. Later, however, on the suppression of many convents and churches, places of deposit had to be provided for the works of art taken from them. Many of these fell into the hands of individuals, or became the prey of speculators. To prevent their total loss to the public, the several governments promptly instituted galleries, into which were gradually gathered all works of art belonging to them, or which had been declared the property of the state. In this way masterpieces which for centuries had been lost to the public eye, or half forgotten in rarely explored apartments of princely residences, were brought out from their obscurity, and restored to their legitimate function of popular enjoyment and instruction. Yet even in the best of these institutions there was no special order or system, and they had little to recommend them beside the indifferent opportunity they gave to those disposed to study art.
The present Museum of the Louvre is composed of numerous galleries of objects of art and antiquity, embracing the entire range of civilization, founded and conserved on a scale of imperial liberality and magnificence. As the visitor wanders through its long ranges of halls, overflowing with
precious works, he is surprised to learn that this chief attraction of the most attractive city of the world is scarcely seventy years old. On the 18th of October, 1792, the first year of the French Republic, M. Roland wrote to David, the painter, that the National Convention had decreed the establishment of a Museum in the palace of the Louvre, of which he was to be the director. Let it be borne in mind, that the greatest Museum of Europe was thus founded by republicans. It was not until the people had won political power, that the rulers threw open to them the treasures of art which had hitherto been enjoyed in selfish privacy, or displayed only as reflections of the aristocratic taste and magnificence of the few. When absolutism gave way to democratic ideas, one of the first results was the restoration to the people of the art of previous ages, whose chief inspiration, most abundant fruits, and noblest motives had their origin, particularly in Italy, before popular liberty had been overthrown by the combined despotisms of Church and State. Especially should Americans recall the historical fact, for edification and encouragement, that art has flourished and been lofty and pure in proportion to the freedom of the people, rather than the power of princes. Hence our hope for the spread of high art on this continent rests in great degree upon our faith in the ultimate triumph of a true democracy. Republican France, although engaged in a death-struggle with coalesced Europe, bleeding and pov erty-stricken, convulsed with civil strife, and tortured by the hate of castes and sects, jeoparded in her liberties and existence as we never can be, thought and labored for art. The numerous portable works which the nation owned were gathered into a museum, free to all; whilst 100,000 livres annually were decreed for the purchase of pictures and statues in private hands, which the Republic considered it would not be for its honor to permit to be sold out of the country. From this beginning, and under these circumstances, within the memory of those now living, the present Louvre has risen.
What was oligarchical England doing meanwhile? Not founding galleries; for, with the example of the Louvre before them, the British Parliament refused as a gift what now constitutes the admirable Dulwich Gallery. The British government
cared not at that date to instruct the people, or provide for their enjoyment in art, or indeed in anything else. Fortunately, it became before long fashionable to have a taste for pictures. This potent influence, added to the enlightenment of a few leading minds, who perceived that it was necessary for England to do something for the education of her artisans for the benefit of the manufacturing interests, jeoparded by the superior taste and skill of Continental artistic training, led to the purchase of the overrated Angerstein collection of pictures for £57,000, as the foundation of a National Gallery. While other countries had abundant store of works of art as public property with which to begin their great museums, England was almost destitute; the only royal collection of value it had ever possessed, that of Charles I., having been long before dispersed. But no sooner did the people of England have an opportunity of studying art, than the National Gallery began to assume an importance proportionate to the greatness of the nation. The people have proved more liberal than the government; for while that has added to it by purchase since 1823 about two hundred pictures, gifts and bequests have increased it by upwards of seven hundred. Meantime the South Kensington Museum, more directly devoted to artistic education, has been established. In connection with it there are already fourscore schools of design, instructing 70,000 pupils, costing annually, in round numbers, $500,000, both galleries, the National and Kensington, yearly receiving a million of visitors.
The most careless observer cannot have failed to notice, of late, the rapid improvement in graceful design and harmonious coloring of those British manufactures into which art enters as an elemental feature. As yet there is not much originality or variety of invention, though considerable skill and taste are displayed in adaptation from classical and mediæval examples, betokening a general spread of knowledge of art-forms, and a riper appreciation of their refining and æsthetic influences, even when associated with objects of common use. his is due to those institutions above named, and the eloquent literature of art which has grown up with them, of which Ruskin is the most conspicuous example. England