Imágenes de páginas

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. This 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

preserves her pre-eminence by schooling her artisans in matters of refined taste and perfect workmanship. Under similar advantages, there is no reason why our people, with more cosmopolitan brains, acuter sensibilities, readier impressibility, and quicker inventive faculties, should not excel her in these respects, as we do already in several branches of manufacture. Education only is lacking. We are wrong. One thing beside is needful. The plucking out by its roots of that national conceit which forbids us to confess our ignorance of anything; this done, the American need fall behind no other race in intellectual and artistical progress. We have a continent of fast multiplying millions to supply with all the fabrics into which æsthetic enjoyment may enter, as well as absolute works of art. And what utensil is there with which we may not, as did the Greeks, connect beauty of form and color, and make it suggestive of hidden meaning, pointing a moral or narrating a fact?

If the eye dwells only upon the common aspect of our streets and dwellings, the almost universal indifference to the simplest laws of order and beauty which prevails is not only discouraging to a cultivated taste, but is as painful to the vision as are discordant sounds to the musical ear. Look at our

shop-windows, by way of a homely illustration of our meaning. One glance at some of these is often sufficient to stagger any eye accustomed to take delight in the harmonies of color, order, and general beauty of artistic arrangement. Instead of that tasteful, inviting display of merchandise seen abroad, and which to Americans, especially at Paris, constitutes their first, and often their only, lesson in art, we have a chaotic medley of things carelessly thrust into the windows, without other aim than to make each object as obtrusively conspicuous as possible. Many things there are of the toilettes of both sexes, which have no business whatever in such a place. All show "confusion worse confounded." A Parisian grisette would stand aghast at such an exposition. We venture to say that a Parisian dealer, who violated the æsthetic decencies of life in the exhibition of his merchandise after the manner of many of our shopmen, would speedily become a bankrupt. We eat by the eye, and buy too, more than is usually imagined. To test this statement, let an enterprising shopman on Wash

ington Street or Broadway import from Paris an expert hand to arrange his merchandise in its most attractive aspect. His neighbors would soon be convinced that there was a subtle but positive flow of custom toward the point of beauty, although other conditions might be equal. Man was not created to live by bread alone. Beauty, however, requires to be made tangibly visible to be popularly enjoyed. Those who have seen in France the symmetrical wood-piles, with their mosaics of geometrical figures, and even the orderly arrangement of coalheaps, can answer for their pleasing effects, showing how objects the most unæsthetical in themselves can be made attractive by the fairy-like touch of good taste. Every shopkeeper can become, through the means of his wares, if he but comprehends the elementary rules of beauty, a teacher of good taste to the public. Especially is this true of establishments devoted to objects of art. Shops like those of Williams and Everett in Boston we mention this one as the most familiar example to New-Englanders, though it is but one of many in America are the only real schools of art that we at present possess. That they are both instructive and attractive, elevating and refining to the public taste, is evident from the crowds that daily visit them, to gratify an instinctive love of the beautiful. Familiarity with high art is what we most require to exalt our critical standard. These shops, by means chiefly of engravings, photographs, and designs, and occasionally by the exhibition of good paintings and statuary, provide opportunities in this respect for the masses, which otherwise would only be the exceptionable privilege of the wealthier few. Their multiplication is encouraging; and were they suddenly withdrawn, we should painfully feel our dependence on them for æsthetic food.


In our architecture there is occasional evidence of correct feeling in the adaptation of forms to the purpose of the building, or some suggestiveness of details which gladdens the spirit like sunbeams struggling through a leaden sky. In other lands, however, the picturesque adapts itself, as it were, spontaneously to the landscape, frequently veiling with captivating mystery, addressed to the eye, what otherwise, if curiously peered into, might not be equally gratifying to the

remaining senses. Thrift and cleanliness are the common characteristics of a New England community. But they are too often cribbed and confined in houses and grounds from which every element of poetry and symptom of any instinctive love of beauty have been sedulously proscribed. Puritanism was at fault here. Its irrational hostility to sensuous enjoyment and the free action of fancy and imagination in an artistic sense, induced grave errors in our social fabric. The direct tendency of asceticism, under any garb, is to materialism and sensualism. Our gravest loss, owing to general intellectual cultivation, comes short of this, but leaves us neglectful of those æsthetic refinements and amenities which have been aptly termed minor morals, and are in truth the most delightsome flavor of life. It is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when that intense egotism, born of the concentrated individualism of a too commercial people, shall be tempered by those more genial elements of humanity under whose influence its selfish exclusiveness will disappear, giving place to fraternal interest in pleasures free to all. Genuine socialism begins by expansion of the heart. Repudiating that mean pride of possession which covets means or objects in the degree that they isolate and exalt the individual in luxury and power above his fellows, it desires to use its gifts in a way which shall most fully comply with the spirit of the saying, that of him to whom much is given much will be required.

The vice of our civilization, as we have already intimated, is the intense egotism it fosters. Success to one person too often means loss to many. "Love thy neighbor," is largely distilled into that siren draft for the soul," Charity begins at home." One means of infusing a more neighborly spirit among men is to do away as much as possible the temptations to exclusiveness among the rich, and covetousness among the poor. It is in this respect that all sources of common enjoyment and instruction, drawing men out of their isolations, mixing them sympathetically together, are of the greatest benefit. Galleries of art, next to religious institutions, contribute most powerfully to this desirable end. What has been done to supply this want?

The primary objects of these institutions elsewhere have

« AnteriorContinuar »