Men I Have Painted/Edward H. Coates
I PAINTED Mr. Coates the first time in Camp Elsinore, on the wild shores of Lake Saint Regis, in the Adirondack Mountains. It was an ideal spot for work or, it would be more just to say, for idleness. The warm, pine-scented air invited you to rest, and the still, clear water lured you to float on its surface in a birch-bark canoe.
But Mr. Coates, seated on the piazza, made an attractive picture: so I gathered my brushes into my hand and sketched him as he sat with his pet dog on his knee—a study in black and gray. This was the most interesting portrait of the three that were painted. The second was done in Murestead, when he and Mrs. Coates were making us a visit in London. The third was made in camp, during the third year of the war. Hidden away among the pines, in those peaceful mountains, the echoes of the conflict were very faint; for at that time America was only engaged in sending munitions to the Allies, and was not assisting them in the field.
There is a mystery in the charm of the north-woods which belongs to a time that antedates the life of man. Here man has left little trace of himself: and as one wanders northward, tracks are almost lost in the forests that are covered deep in moss. From these lands, from the great mountains of the West, and from the boundless deserts and prairies, the "cry of the wild" comes forth, the cry that, once heard, is never silent in the heart of him who loves the virgin soil, untouched by the heel of man—the cry that comes only out of the solitudes of America. With that cry ringing softly in my ears, I painted and I dreamed, and often at my side a soft and gentle voice breathed this song—
Friendship from its moorings strays,
Love binds fast together;
Friendship is for balmy days,
Love for stormy weather.
For itself the one contends
Fancied wrongs regretting—
Love the thing it loves defends,
All besides forgetting.
Friendship is the morning lark
Toward the sunrise winging,
Love the nightingale, at dark
Most divinely singing!
The reign of Mr. Coates at the Academy marked the period of its greatest prosperity. Rich endowments were made to the schools, a gallery of national portraiture was formed, and some of the best examples of Gilbert Stuart's work acquired. The annual exhibitions attained a brilliancy and éclat hitherto unknown. Two of the greatest masterpieces of American Art were produced—The Clinic of Doctor Gross and The Clinic of Dr. Agnew, by Thomas Eakins—rare works that carry on the best traditions of the masters. Unfortunately, it may be said in parentheses, these pictures are hidden away, one in the University of Pennsylvania, and the other in the College of Medicine, where the public has little opportunity to see and study them.
World-renowned American masters of Art were, at this time, in the hey-day of their success, and the walls of the Academy were annually adorned by important works from the hands of Sargent, Abbey, Whistler, Cecilia Beaux, Chase, Anschutz, Tanner, Weir, Lawson, Twatchman, and a host of brilliant young painters rising into fame.
Mr. Coates wisely established the schools upon a conservative basis, building almost unconsciously the dykes high against the oncoming flow of insane novelties in art patterns, and keeping the pumps going against the ebb that was carrying the weak-minded and feeble-fingered back to the totems of Yucatan and Kamschatka. In this last struggle against modernism the President was ably supported by Eakins, Anschutz, Grafly, Thouron, Vonnoh, and Chase.
His unfailing courtesy, his disinterested thoughtfulness, his tactfulness, and his modesty endeared him to scholars and masters alike. No sacrifice of time or of means was too great, if he thought he could accomplish the end he always had in view—the honour and the glory of the Academy. It was under Mr. Coates' enlightened direction that was fulfilled the expressed wish of Benjamin West, the first honorary Academician, that "Philadelphia may be as much celebrated for her galleries of paintings by the native genius of the country, as she is distinguished by the virtues of her people; and that she may be looked up to as the Athens of the Western World in all that can give polish to the human mind."
In the interests of the Academy Mr. Coates became a generous patron of the arts: and it was not difficult, to one of his affable and persuasive nature, to enlist the hearty sympathy and the generous financial support of many of his colleagues and fellow-trustees. A marked feature of his administration, and one which assured its success, was the happy faculty of drawing around him advisers chosen from the ranks of the artists themselves. I can look back with a feeling of pleasure to the thought that I may have been partly instrumental in obtaining for the winners of the travelling scholarships an increased grant from the Cresson Fund, to enable the student to live decently, as well as comfortably, in Paris or in Rome. It was at an interview which I had with Mr. Coates upon this subject that I earnestly brought to the attention of the President the great truth that the creation of artists was not so important as their maintenance. And I pointed out very forcibly the cruel mistake of an over-inducement, through money prizes, to many young persons to enter a profession in which patronage was exceedingly limited, and in which success is usually more illusory and elusive than in any other. Artists can make themselves, but at the outset none can maintain himself without aid.