Our Philadelphia/Chapter 15
CHAPTER XV: PHILADELPHIA AND ART—CONTINUED
BY the time I grew up years had passed since Philadelphia had ceased to be the Capital, and during these years its atmosphere had not been especially congenial to art. But the general conditions had not been more stimulating anywhere in America. The Hudson River School is about all that came of a period which, for that matter, owed its chief good to revolt in countries where more was to be expected of it: in France, to first the Romanticists and then the Impressionists who had revolted against the Academic; in England to the Pre-Raphaelites who, with noisy advertisement, broke away from Victorian convention. Art in America had not got to the point of development when there was anything to revolt against or to break away from. What it needed was a revival of the old interest, a reaction from the prevailing indifference to all there was of art in the country.Some say this came in Philadelphia with the Centennial. The Centennial's stirring up, however, would not have done much good had not artists already begun to stir themselves up. How a number of Americans who had been studying in Paris and Munich returned to America full of youth and enthusiasm in the early
THE OLD WATER-WORKS, FAIRMOUNT PARK
Eighteen-Seventies, there to lead a new movement in American art, has long since passed into history—also the fact that one of the most remarkable outcomes of this new movement was the new school of illustration that quickly made American illustrated books and magazines famous throughout the world. But what concerns me as a Philadelphian is that, once more at this critical moment, Philadelphia took the lead. The publishers of the illustrated books and magazines may have been chiefly in New York, the illustrations were chiefly from Philadelphia, and there is no reason why Philadelphia should not admit it with decent pride. Abbey and Frost were actually, Howard Pyle and Smedley virtually, Philadelphians. Blum and Brennan passed through the Academy Schools. J., when I met him, was at the threshold of his career. And the illustrators were but a younger offshoot of the new Philadelphia group. Miss Mary Cassatt had already started to work in Paris, where Jules Stewart and Ridgway Knight represented the older Philadelphia school; Mrs. Anna Lea Merritt was already in London; J. McLure Hamilton had finished his studies at Antwerp; Alexander and Birge Harrison had been heard of in Paris where Sargent—who belongs to Philadelphia if to any American town—had carried off his first honours. At home Richards was painting his marines; Poore had begun his study of animals; Dana, I think, was beginning his water-colours; William Sartain had long been known as an engraver; Miss Emily Sartain was an art editor and soon to be the head of an art school; the Moran family, with the second generation, had become almost a Philadelphia institution; from Stephen Ferris J. could learn the technic of etching as from the Claghorn collection he could trace its development through the ages; and of the younger men and women, his contemporaries, he did not leave me long in ignorance.
My own work had led me to the discovery of so many worlds of work in Philadelphia, I could not have believed there was room for another. But there was, and the artists' world was so industrious, so full of energy, so sufficient unto itself, so absorbed in itself, that, with the first glimpse into it, the difficulty was to believe space and reason could be left for any outside of it. This new experience was as extraordinary a revelation as my initiation into the newspaper world. I had been living, without suspecting it, next door to people who thought of nothing, talked of nothing, occupied themselves with nothing, but art: people for whom a whole army of men and women were busily employed, managing schools, running factories, keeping stores, putting up buildings—delightful people with whom I could not be two minutes without reproaching myself for not having known from the cradle that nothing in life save art ever did count, or ever could. And at this point I can afford to get rid of Philadelphia reticence without scruple since through this, to me, new world of work I had the benefit of J.'s guidance.
It was a moment when it had got to be the fashion for artists in all the studios in the same building to give receptions on the same day, and I learned that J.'s, so strange to me at first, was only one of an endless number. For part of my new experience was the round of the studios on the appointed day, when I was too oppressed by my ignorance and my desire not to expose it and my uncertainty as to what was the right thing to say in front of a picture, that I do not remember much besides, except the miniatures of Miss Van Tromp and the marines of Prosper Senat, and why they should now stand out from the confused jumble of my memories I am sure I cannot see.
Then J. took me to the Academy of Fine Arts and it was revealed to me as a place not to pass by but to go inside of: artists from all over the country struggling to get in for its annual exhibition of paintings which already had a reputation as one of the finest given in the country; artists from all over the world drawn in for its international exhibitions of etchings—Whistler, Seymour Haden, Appian, Lalanne, a catalogue-full of etchers introduced for the first time to my uneducated eyes; everybody who could crowding in on Thursday afternoons to sit on the stairs and listen to the music, while I upbraided myself for not having known ages ago what delightful things there were to do, instead of letting my time hang heavy on my hands, in Philadelphia.
J. had me invited to more private evenings and reunions of societies of artists, and I remember—if they do not—meeting many who were at the very heart of the machinery that made the wheels of the new movement go round:—Mr. Leslie Miller, the director of the School of Industrial Art from which promising students were emerging or had emerged; Stephen Parrish and Blanche Dillaye and Gabrielle Clements, whose etchings were with the Whistlers and the Seymour Hadens in the international exhibitions; Alice Barber full of commissions from magazines; Margaret Leslie and Mary Trotter in their fervent apprenticeship; Boyle and Stephens the sculptors; Colin Cooper and Stephens the painters. What a rank outsider I felt in their company! And how grateful I was for my talent as a listener that helped to save me from exposure!
THE STAIRWAY, STATE HOUSE
had a right to look for a decent return on his money. That expresses the attitude of a vast number of Philadelphians in their new active enthusiasm. However trumpery the amount of labour they invested, they counted on it to bring them in a big dividend in dollars and cents.
I am afraid my Uncle, without meaning to, encouraged this spirit, when he started not only the Industrial Art School, but the Decorative Art Club in Pine Street. He was an optimist and saw only the beautiful side of anything he was interested in. To please him I was made the Treasurer of the Club. The Committee sympathised with my Uncle and worked for the ultimate good he thought the Club was to accomplish in Philadelphia. Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Mifflin, Mrs. Pepper, Miss Julia Biddle with whom I served, agreed with him that women who had some training in art would understand better the meaning of art and the pleasure of the stimulus this understanding could give. My Uncle, however, always ready to do anybody a good turn, went further and was anxious that provision should also be made to sell the work done in the Club, which in this way would be open to many who could not otherwise afford it. I fancy that this provision, if not the success of the Club, was one of its chief attractions. The amateur is apt to believe she can romp in gaily and snatch whatever prizes are going by playing with the art which is the life's work, mastered by toil and travail, of the artist.
I criticise now, but in my new ardour I saw nothing to criticise. On the contrary, I saw perfection: artists and students encouraged, occupations and interests lavished upon amateurs whose lives had been as empty as mine; and I worked myself up into a fine enthusiasm of belief in art as a new force, or one that if it had always existed had been waiting for its prophet,—just as electricity had waited for Franklin to capture and apply it to human needs. I went so far in my exaltation as to write an inspired—or so it seemed to me—article on Art as the New Religion, proving that the old religions having perished and the old gods fallen, art had re-arisen in its splendour and glory to provide a new gospel, a new god, to take their place, and I filled my essay with ingenious arguments, and liberal quotations from William Morris and Ruskin, and rhetorical flights of prophecy. I had not given the last finishing and convincing touches to my exposition of the new gospel when, with my marriage, came other work more urgent, and I was spared the humiliation of seeing my Palace of Art collapse, like the house built on sand, while I still believed in it. In the years that followed I got to know most of the galleries and exhibitions of Europe; despite my scruples I made a profession of writing about art; and the education this meant taught me, among other things, the simple truth that art is art, and not religion. But I cannot laugh at the old folly of my ignorance. The enthusiasm, the mood, out of which the article grew, was better, healthier, than the apathy that had saved me from being ridiculous because it risked nothing.
These years away from home were spent largely in the company of artists and were filled with the talk of art; what had been marvels to me in Philadelphia became the commonplaces of every day. But I was all the time in Italy, or France, or England, and could not realize the extent to which, for Philadelphians who had not wandered, artists and art were also becoming more and more a part of everyday life. I did not see Philadelphia in the changing, not until it had changed, and possibly I feel the change more than those who lived through it. It is not so much in the things done, in actual accomplishment, that I am conscious of it, as in the new concern for art, the new attentions heaped upon it, the new deference to it. Art is in the air—"on the town," a subject of polite conversation, a topic for the drawing-room.
When I first came out, art had never supplied small talk in society, never filled up a gap at a dull dinner or reception. We should have been disgracefully behind the times if we could not chatter about Christine Nilsson and Campanini and the last opera, or Irving and Ellen Terry and their interpretation of Shakespeare; if we had not kept up with Trollope and George Eliot, and read the latest Howells and Henry James, and raved over the Rubaiyat. But we might have had the brand-newest biographical dictionary of artists at our fingers' ends—as we had not—and there would have been no occasion to use our information. Nobody sparkled by sprinkling his talk with the names of artists and sculptors, nobody asked what was in the last Academy or who had won the gold medal in Paris, nobody discussed the psychology or the meaning of the picture of the year. I remember thinking I was doing something rather pretentious and pedantic when I began to read Ruskin. I remember how a friend who was a tireless student of Kügler and Crowe and Cavalcaselle, as a preparation to the journey to Europe that might never come off, was looked upon as a sort of prodigy—a Philadelphia phenomenon. But to-day I am sure there is not the name of an artist, from Cimabue and Giotto to Matisse and Picasso, that does not go easily round the table at any Philadelphia dinner; not a writer on art, from Lionardo to Nordau, who cannot fill up awkward pauses at an afternoon crush; not one of the learned women of Philadelphia who could not tell you where every masterpiece in the world hangs and just what her emotions before it should be, who could not play the game of attributions as gracefully as the game of bridge, who could not dispose of the most abstruse points in art as serenely as she settles the simplest squabble in the nursery.The Academy is no longer abandoned in the wilderness of Broad and Cherry Streets; its receptions and private views are social functions, its exhibitions are events of importance, the best given in Philadelphia and throughout the land, its collections are the pride of the wealthy
UPPER ROOM, STENTON
Philadelphians who contribute to them, its schools are stifled with scholarships.
The other Art Schools have multiplied, not faster, however, than the students whose legions account for, if they do not warrant, the existence not of the Academy Schools alone, but of the School of Industrial Art, the Drexel Institute, the Woman's School of Design, the Uncle's old little experiment enlarged into a large Public Industrial Art School where, I am told, the Founder is comfortably forgotten—of more institutes, schools, classes than I probably have heard of.
The Art Galleries have muiltiplied: there is some reason for Memorial Hall now that the Wilstach Collection is housed there, and the Yellow Buskin, one of the finest Whistlers, hangs on its walls, now that the collections of decorative art are being added to by Mrs. John Harrison and other Philadelphians who are ambitious for their town and its supremacy in all things. Nor does this Philadelphia ambition soar to loftier heights than in the project for the new Parkway from the City Hall with a new Art Gallery—the centre of a sort of University of Art if I can rely upon the plans—to crown the Park end of this splendid (partially still on paper) avenue, as the Arc de Triomphe crowns the western end of the Avenue of the Champs-Elysées.
The collectors multiply, their aims, purse, field of research, all expanding; their shyness on the subject surmounted; Old Masters for whom Europe now weeps making their triumphant entry into Philadelphia; the highest price, that test of the modern patron, paid for a Rembrandt in Philadelphia; the collections of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Widener and Mr. Elkins and Mr. Thomas in Philadelphia as well known by the authorities as the Borghesi collection in Rome or the Duke of Westminster's in London.
The social life of art grows and can afford the large luxurious Club in South Broad Street, artists and their friends amply supporting it. And the old Sketch Club, once glad of the shelter of a room or so, has blossomed forth in a house of its own in the flourishing "Little Street of Clubs," with the Woman's Plastic Club close by.
The artists only, as far as I can see, have not multiplied and grown in proportion. But the artist somehow appears to be the last consideration of those who think they are encouraging art. Still there are new names for my old list: Henry Thouron, Violet Oakley, Maxfield Parrish, now ranked with the decorative painters—and, I might just point out in passing, it is to Philadelphia that Boston, Harrisburg, and at times New York must send for their decorators, whose work I have not seen in place to express an opinion on it one way or the other. Cecilia Beaux and Adolphe Borie now figure with the portrait painters; Waugh and Fromuth with the marine painters, who include also Stokes, the chronicler of Arctic splendors of sea and sky, and Edward Stratton Holloway, the making of beautiful books claiming his interest no less than the sea; Glackens, Thornton Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Wilcox Smith with the illustrators; McCarter, Redfield with the group gathered about the Academy; Grafly with the sculptors; Clifford Addams, Daniel Garber with the winners of scholarships. Architects have not lagged behind in the race—after the Furness period, a Cope and Stewardson period, a Wilson Eyre period, to-day a Zantzinger, Borie, Medary, Day, Page, Trumbauer, and a dozen more periods each progressing in the right direction; with young men from the Beaux-Arts and young men from the University School, eager to tackle the ever-increasing architectural commissions in a town growing and re-fashioning itself faster than any mushroom upstart of the West, to inaugurate a period of their own.
I am not a fighter by nature, I set a higher value on peace as I grow older, and I look to ending my days in Philadelphia. Therefore I chronicle the change; I do not criticise it. But a few comments I may permit myself and yet hope that Philadelphia will not bear me in return the malice I could so ill endure. I think the gain to Philadelphia from this new interest has, in many ways, been great. If art is the one thing that lives through the ages—art whether expressed in words, or paint, or bricks and mortar, or the rhythm of sound,—it follows that the pleasure it gives—when genuine—is the most enduring. This is a distinct, if perhaps at the moment negative, gain. A more visible gain I think comes from the new desire, the new determination to care for the right thing: a fashion due perhaps to the insatiable American craving for "culture," and at times guilty of unintelligent excesses, but pleasanter in results than the old crazes that filled Philadelphia drawing-rooms with spinning wheels and cat's tails and Morris mediævalism,—if they brought Art Nouveau in their train, thank fortune it has left no traces of its passing; a fashion more dignified in results than the old standards that filled Philadelphia streets with flights of originality, and green stone monsters, and the deplorable Philadelphia brand of Gothic and Renaissance, Romanesque and Venetian, Tudor and everything except the architecture that belongs by right and tradition in Penn's beautiful town.But interest in art does not create art, and when Philadelphia believes in this interest as a creator, Philadelphia falls into a mistake that it has not even the merit of having originated. I have watched for many years the attempts to make art grow, to force it like a hot-house plant. The same thing is going on everywhere. In England, South Kensington for more than half a century has had its schools in all parts of the kingdom, the County Council has added to them, the City Corporation and the City Guilds have followed suit, artists open private classes, exhibitions have increased in number until they are a drug on the market, art critics flourish, the papers devote
The doorway from within
columns to their platitudes. And what has England to show as the outcome of all this care? Go look at the decorations in the Royal Exchange and the pictures in the Royal Academy, examine the official records and learn how great is the yearly output of art teachers in excess of schools for them to teach in, and you will have a good idea of the return made on the money and time and red tape lavished upon the teaching of art. It is no better in Paris. Schools and students were never so many, foreigners arrive in such numbers that they are pushing the Frenchman out of his own Latin Quarter, American students swagger, play the prince on scholarships, are presented with clubs and homes where they can give afternoon teas and keep on living in a little America of their own. And what comes of it? Were the two Salons, with the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne thrown in, ever before such a weariness to the flesh?—was mediocrity ever before such an invitation to the posèur and the crank to pass off manufactured eccentricity as genius?
It would not be reasonable to expect more of Philadelphia than of London and Paris. I cannot see that finer artists have been bred there on the luxury of scholarships and schools than on their own efforts when they toiled all day to be able to study at night, when success was theirs only after a hard fight. The Old Masters got their training as apprentices, not as pampered youths luxuriating in fine schools and exhibitions and incomes and every luxury; they were patronized and more splendidly than any artists to-day, but not until they had shown reason for it, not until it was an honour to patronize them. The new system is more comfortable, I admit, but great work does not spring from comfort. Philadelphia is wise to set up a high standard, but not wise when it makes the way too easy. For art is a stern master. It cares not if the weak fall by the roadside, so long as the strong, unhampered, succeed in getting into their own. The best thing that has been done at the Academy for many a day is the reducing of the scholarships from a two, or three, years' interval free of responsibility, to a summer's holiday among the masterpieces of Europe, which, I am told, is all they are now.