George Augustus Henry Sala.

Notes and sketches of the Paris exhibition online

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lifeless, as the wax figures at Madame Tussaud's. And, to
come nearer our own time, what would Ingres what would
the rigid and virtuous painter of " St. Symphorien," and " An-
gelica," and the " Cherubini " of the Luxembourg, and the
" Odalisque " the great defiance to the romantic school, the
most decorous piece of indecorum perhaps ever produced
what would the melancholy and ascetic Ary Scheffer, the
dreamy mystic whose " Mignon," whose " Dante and
Beatrice," whose " Francesca," whose " Christus Consolator,"
seem to bear about them something of the vague, wild, wail-
ing music of an .^Eolian harp what would even the superb


and chivalric Paul Delaroche, the Velasquez of his day, the
hero who delighted more in the portrayal of noble personages
and grand deeds what would these Conscript Fathers of art
have thought of a public running mad -after Meissonnier's
puppets and Grerome's Phrynes and Queen Candaules ?

It is a plain and patent fact, however, that the " grand
style " dependent on severely academical drawing, con-
ventional drapery, conventional attitudes, conventional com-
position, and conventional colour that is to say, a prevailing
pink, grey, and drab, and, throughout, chalky hue, has ceased
to find favour in France. There are the usual governmental
and municipal commissions given for altar-pieces, hemicycles,
the spandrils of arches, the deli of cupolas, the walls of
council chambers and staircases; but the orders of the
state are ordered spiritlessly and reluctantly. They are
executed, for artists, at the outset of their career, must have
bread ; but so soon as they can emancipate themselves from
the patronage and the censorship of the ministry of fine aits,
we find the academically- bred painters striking out new
paths, seeking fresh associations, jettant leurs depoques aux
orties, like dissolute monks, and plunging into all the de-
lights, and sometimes into all the license of liberty. It is
perhaps better for all painters, whatever may be the depart-
ment in art to which in future they elect to devote them-
selves, to have, as a basis of instruction, a thorough course of
academical discipline to go through the whole stony curri-
culum of free-handed and instrumental geometry, of linear
and aerial perspective, of the theory of shadows and the laws
of curves, of plastic and comparative anatomy, of the doctrine
of foreshortening and the axioms of pyramidal composition :
that they should learn to model and to etch before they


presume to paint. Such a thorough and painstaking theo-
retical and practical education can do them no harm, and it
may do them a vast amount of good. At least it will make
them, artistically, scholars and gentlemen : and an analo-
gous plea may be advanced in favour of subjecting our
English youths, who are afterwards to become lawyers, states-
men, divines, surgeons, physicians, or even soldiers and
sailors, to an eight or ten years' course of Greek, Latin, and
mathematics. The number of artists, however, as of scholars,
who persist in the continually up-hill career of erudition, is
limited. Only blockheads can really forget that which they
ever learnt at school ; and, as a rule, when you find a man
declaring that he has " forgotten his classics," it will generally
turn out, on inquiry, that he never knew any. Still we are
apt to merge our original book-learning into a common stock
of subsequently-acquired and viva voee knowledge. We
dread the imputation of pedantry ; and, indeed, we often
find that book-learning, unless it be Applied unless it be
absorbed in and made to subserve actual technical attain-
ments will prove rather a hindrance than a help to our
advancement in life : that it will cause us to be intolerably
conceited ; and that it will fail to make us useful. A good
mathematician, who is also a good carpenter, is twice a man.
A good carpenter, without mathematics, is a man ; but a
mere puzzler over problems and chalker of diagrams, who
cannot do anything to earn five shillings a day for him-
self, is only half a man. For example, I may have a con-
viction that, as a man of letters, I have pretty well said my
say that I am growing stupid and prosy that I am coming
to the end of my stock of ideas ; that young men are growing
up around me who are brighter, cleverer, more industrious


than I am. But I learnt in early youth to engrave visiting
cards and tradesmen's billheads on copper and steel ; and if
I find the bright and clever young men pushing me from my
stool, why, I can emigrate to Canada, or Australia, or Cali-
fornia, knowing that wherever trade and commerce thrive,
there is a demand for card -plates and billheads ; and that I
may at least get my bread and cheese without either robbing,
digging, or begging.

A survey of the works of art in painting and drawing,
exhibited in the French sections of the Champ de Mars, and
a comparison of those works, not alone with those which the
English have to show in Paris, but with those which, from
memory and experience, we know to exist at home, forces on
us one dominant and melancholy conclusion : that the
French, however much they may vary in their status as
painters, do, as a rule, draw admirably ; and that we, al-
though often excelling in colour, and in the taste, the
pathos, and the humour we instil into our pictures, do as a
rule draw infamously. The "free hand" is manifest in
almost every French picture, although, as a painting, it may
be next door to a daub. By the " free hand " I mean the
unmistakable presence of a knowledge of draughtsmanship
on the part of the designer. He knows the proper propor-
tions of the human figure. He has had the canons of
Vitruvius and Albert Durer drummed into him. He has
mastered, long years ago, the grammar, the theory, the
thorough-bass and counterpoint of art. He knows not only
where are the muscles, but where that invaluable scaffolding
beneath the muscles, the bones, should be. His muscular and
bony markings, although broad, are in essentials correct.
Knowing what is the latent appearance of the human form,


he is enabled, with the very slightest assistance from models,
to cause his drapery to fall in easy and natural folds.
Having been taught the law of shadows, he knows how to
give to each round or flat surface its proper quota of light,
shadow, and reflection. Having learnt perspective at school
not as a mere " extra " or supplement to artistic instruction,
but as an integral part of mathematical education, he knows
how to manage the planes of his picture, and how to set, not
only his trees and his houses, but his horses and his human
figures, in their proper visual aspect. In English pictures,
while the landscape and architecture are frequently in strict
accordance with the laws of linear perspective, the figures,
from the absence of early geometrical training, are mon-
strously out of proportion, or, if they are foreshortened,
present their raecourcis at impossible angles when compared
with surrounding objects. Finished with wonderful careful-
ness and nicety, sweetly and tenderly coloured as they are, the
best of English pictures rarely fail to excite in the mind of an
educated spectator a sentiment of indignation. They are so
vilely drawn. They sin so crassly against the very first rules
of mathematical truth ; and, for all their meretricious stippling,
and glazing, and scumbling, and tickling, and touching up,
you can see from beginning to end the painter would have
been able to do nothing without human or still-life models.
Take away Mr. John Gilbert, and there is scarcely an
English figure painter of note who is "free handed/' and
who is not an abject slave to his models.




SAMUEL FOOTE, the famous actor and wit, once took it into
his head to invest some money in a brewery, as wits in all
ages, and often to their destruction, have been curiously apt
to do. The beer that Foote brewed was very bad. Those
whose sides had often ached at his wonderful mimicry and
his jests frequently found, after patronising his tap, that the
aching sensation extended to their stomachs. It chanced
that he was bidden to dine one evening at the house of a
great lord, in whose servants' hall beer from the Foote
brewery, much to the discomfort of the domestics, was drunk.
The lacquey who opened the door recognized and scowled
upon him as on a personal enemy. The butler who poured
out the actor-brewer's Madeira probably wished that he could
fill his glass with his own abhorred swipes, instead. But the
banquet proceeded, and Foote began to be funny. He let
off, that night, some of his choicest jokes. The table was in
a roar. The guests, as M. Guizot afterwards related of
Sydney Smith, laughed "while he spoke, after he spoke, and
before he spoke." He surrounded himself with a blaze of
verbal fireworks. My lord was pleased to be pleased. Even


the moody butler chuckled ; and as for the little black boy
who waited behind the actor's chair, he so grinned with
delight that his ears nearly met at the nape of his neck.
That black boy went down subsequently to the kitchen, and
laughed till he cried. When he had recovered his breath
and his composure, and had related a few of the richest
faceiise he had heard upstairs, he made before the assembled
servants this memorable remark "He is a great man. I
mil drink his leer"

Now, in the kingdom of Belgium, so gently and honestly
ruled by Leopold II., there is one dreadful and abhorrent
thing one detestable and maleficent product to which I
have sworn these many years past eternal enmity. I allude
to the hateful stuff called Faro Beer. To say that Faro is at
once sour, bitter, acrid, vapid, and mawkish that it has
neither body, nor bones, nor muscle, nor sinew that in hue
it resembles black dose which has turned pale at the memory
of its own misdeeds, that in odour it might remind the
curious in bad smells of a vinegar factory next door to a bone-
boiler's, with a tanyard over the way and a tallow-melter's
round the corner that it is infinitely worse, even, than
the revolting beverage called " clink," made from the gyle of
malt and the sweepings of hop-bins, and brewed especially
for the benefit of agricultural labourers in harvest time
(four gallons of " clink " per diem are considered a pretty
" tidy " allowance for a bold peasant, his country's pride, in
districts where cider cannot be procured): to say all this is not
to mention a tithe of the unpleasant things which can be said
about Faro Beer. The braves Beiges drink prodigious quan-
tities of it I think the retail price of Faro is about three
halfpence a quart usually in conjunction with hard-boiled


eggs and loud-smelling cheese ; and they are bold enough to
assert that even foreigners, duly acclimatised, will come in
time to be fond of Faro. Ay ; but did not Mithridates feed
on poisons ? and have I not seen, in Barbary, negroes who
could digest with equal facility the rind of a prickly pear, a
live lizard, and a red-hot poker ? Are there not people who
delight in assafoetida biscuit? and others who drink them-
selves to death with the nauseous and brain-killing absinthe ?
Be it as it may, I never could stomach Faro, and I never
was acquainted with a virtuous or reputable person who
could. But, in view of certain Belgian products to be seen
in the Paris Exibition in view of certain beautiful works of
art over which I pored for days, and of which I now purpose
to pen a brief account I am prepared to retract all the hard
words I may have said against Faro. On the principle laid
down by Foote's black boy, I will do my best to drink the
Belgian beer, for the sake of a " great man " who lives in the
Kue d'lxelles, at Brussels. I will forget all my grievances
for the sake of the terra cottas of Monsieur Leopold Harze.

A terra cotta is, as you know, only so much baked clay.
The process of baking is a most delicate and difficult one, for
the clay model always shrinks in the "firing," and with even
greater frequency "flies" or cracks. Probably not one in
ten of the beautiful models produced by the facile hands of
sculptors as matrices for the future bronze or marble can be
baked with satisfaction or security. In large figures they
are compelled by the laws of gravity to use "supports"
that is, to prop up and strengthern the clay internally by
means of wires and sticks. The foundation for a figure of
colossal size is often a perfect skeleton of wood or iron. But
such models do not go to the furnace ; they are cast at once


in plaster, and in the process of casting the original clay is
generally broken to pieces. In a model meant for the oven,
props or supports must be used most sparingly, and it is far
better, if the subject will possibly allow it, to do without
them altogether. The clay in drying shrinks, the supporters
are thus naturally isolated, and what sculptors call un
mauvais vieux is thereby produced i.e., the figure is bereft
of cohesive solidity, and the slightest concussion will shatter
it. The most that prudent modellers will venture upon is to
plant a slender wire a hairpin will suffice for a small figure
in the clay while they are fashioning it, just to keep their
work steady ; but this metallic spine or wire should be with-
drawn before baking. It is obvious, then, that in a case
where adventitious aids can be so grudgingly employed,
variation of attitude or hardihood of design in a terra cotta
becomes exceedingly dangerous. The modeller can take
very few liberties with the pose of his figure. He is altogether
dependent on its centre of gravity, and he must take care
that the limbs he models shall be in proper balance with the
centre to harden without supports. There are, however, a
number of attitudes of the superior extremities, and a few of
those of the inferior, which are not dependent on the laws of
gravity, but which, in the living subject, are produced by-
muscular volition. Many of these defy plastic skill to repro-
duce them ; and even in so strong a material as marble, and
in the most consummate of the ancient statues the Meleager,
the Youth with the " Strigil," and the Belvedere Apollo, for
instance we can see where the sculptor has been forced to
prop up an arm or an extended foot with a short bar or
ligament of marble, absolutely indispensable, but most


Another difficulty in the art of modelling in clay for
baking is that which environs the attainment of any elaborate
detail. For busts, or reliefs of anything of a bold nature,
with plenty of broad surfaces, the clay will serve admirably ;
but for "niggling" finish clay carefully as it may have
been kneaded is too coarse. Such things as feathers, curls
and ringlets, whiskers, eyelashes, lace, ribbons, foliage, and
the gewgaws and trinkets of women, are, generally, but
clumsily imitated in clay. For broad, sweeping, heavy folds
of drapery it is excellent ; but when the modeller comes to
such niceties as a lace shawl, or the underskirts of a dancer,
or a filigree necklace, he is puzzled, and wellnigh despairs.
There are truly some wonderful examples of veiled figures
extant both in ancient and modern sculpture, in which the
most exquisite finish has been attained. Monti's "Veiled
Slave " astonished the world seventeen years since ; and an
even more astonishing example of what has been unkindly
termed " the art of imitating a wet towel " may be seen in
the " Dead Saviour " of the San Severo Chapel at Naples,
and in some Spanish wood carvings in the Church of the
Caridad at Seville. Almost superhuman patience is required
for the execution of these simulacra, and the result is, after
all, .but a negative one. The material in which the most
exquisite elaboration of detail can be attained is wax a
substance which, seemingly intractable at first, becomes, as
it gradually warms and is handled by a skilful modeller,
exquisitely ductile, supple, and pliable. One need only
point to the wax flowers in the London shop windows, and to
the marvellous Mexican wax figures the manufacture of
which in England has been so successfully practised by
Madame Montanari and by Mr. Rich, of Great Eussell Street



to show of what wax, properly treated, is capable. As an
axiom, it may be laid down that it is susceptible of twice the
amount of finish that can be achieved with clay ; and for this
reason the most delicate statuettes, the most cunning ara-
besques, the tiniest figures of animals or flowers, afterwards to
be executed in gold or silver, are first modelled, not in clay,
but in the seductive though sight-destroying material known
as cire rouge, or wax mixed with some red pigment in powder.
I saw last winter, in Kome, in the studio of an eminent
English sculptor, Mr. Card well, a very ingenious and success-
ful compromise devised by him for combining the substan-
tiality of clay with the ductility of wax, and at the same time
obviating the perils to eyesight which arise from poring over
the reddened wax. He had mixed clay and wax together,
with some boiled oil as a diluent, and the result was a
compost emiently plastic, but exquisitely fine and capable of
application to the minutest details ; such, for example, as the
fur of animals, the intricacies of foliage, and the reticulations
of net- work. The material, with proper care, promised to be
indefinitely durable ; but it could not, of course, be baked.

The illustrious John Flaxman, too, was accustomed to
model with a mixture of putty and sand ; and I think it
is John Thomas Smith " Nollekens " Smith that most
amusing antiquary, gossip, and legacy hunter, who speaks
of some beautiful alti-rilievi in putty and sand with which
the good man, whom crazy William Blake used to call
" Sculptor of Eternity," decorated the walls of his studio. In
this material great sharpness of outline was procurable, and
intense hardness set in when the compost dried ; but it was a
most repulsive substance to knead, and as in every case
where lead is a component was injurious to the health of


the workman. Those who have seeii the "bread seals " made
by schoolboys know that a well-kneaded morsel of new
bread will take very sharp impressions, which when dried
becomes as hard as stone, but the bread should be mixed with
a little gum- water, which renders it disagreeably sticky to
the fingers, and both this and the cognate material of papier
mache are more serviceable for pressure into metallic moulds
than for absolute manipulation as models. With all our
devices, we are compelled to revert to first principles, and
the beginning of all plasticity is clay. The illiterate urchin
kneads his " dirt pre," and Phidias with all his learning must
fain do as much for his Venus.

M. Leopold Harze, of Brussels a gentleman whose name I
candidly own I never heard before, and of whose antecedents
or individuality I have not the vaguest knowledge appears
to have surmounted, in a most astonishing manner, the
manifold obstacles which lie in the path of the artist in terra
eotta ; and he has produced a series of works in this material
that, for skilful modelling and careful finish, may vie with
the rarest of the wax figures from Mexico ; that surpass the
well-known booty-dividing brigands and guitar-playing and
macaroni-eating beggars in which the terracotians of Naples
have attained such celebrity ; and that leave a long way
behind even the delightful little papier mache statuettes of
toreadores, contrabandistas, chulos, and aguadores, which you
purchase at Malaga and Alicant. Mr. Harze exhibits ten
groups in terra cotta, numbering each . from two to six
figures ; and it is not alone by their finish that they are
remarkable. They are all replete with a sly humour, almost
Hogarthian in its finesse. There is a scene from " Tartufe,"
and never was a more hypocritical villain immortalised in

H 2


clay than has been moulded by M. Harze. There is the duel
scene from the " Bourgeois Gentilhomme." with the sauciest
soubrette and the drollest bourgeois M. Jourdain ever conceived.
There is a paraphrase an unconscious one, I dare say of
Mulready's " Wolf and the Lamb " : a big, ruffianly boy, who
has bullied and beaten a smaller one, but is suddenly over-
taken by Nemesis in the shape of another boy, the biggest
and most ruffianly of all three. There is a cottage scene,
which looks like one of Jan Steen's interiors put into high
relief, and in which Beranger's charming ballad of the blind
mother and the pair of sweethearts " Lise, vous ne flez
pas " is illustrated. There is a Trial Scene with a thief such
a thief ! with such a beard and such a blouse. I am sure it
must have been; a case of "vol avec escalade et effr action"
This rascal is arraigned before three stern judges, while the
Procureur du Eoi reads the act of accusation. Then there
is Doll Tearsheet sitting on Falstaff's knee, while the naughty
old fat man is bidding her sing improper songs, and telling
her that he shall receive money on Thursday, and asking her
what stuif she will have a kirtle of. You can almost hear
Mrs. Quickly in the corridor, and " Sneak's noise outside," and
the pressure inwards of the knight's fat jowl by Doll's hand
is a triumph of plastic observation in what the Italian's call
morbidezza, or the " art of fleshiness." There is a charming
rustic scene entitled " The pitcher goes often to the well, but
gets broken at last " a young girl at a fountain with Love
hiding among the bushes, till he snuggles close to her and
whispers perilous stuff in her ear. And there is a wonderful
composition of a painter's studio : an old dowager in hoop
and brocade, sitting for her portrait, with a self-satisfied smirk
on her countenance, and her little dog asleep on her knee.


The dowager, however, is wholly unaware that there is some
one else asleep in the studio ; the painter to wit, who, over-
come by fatigue, has sunk into a sound slumber, with his
head against the canvas on his easel. The rogue ! it is easy
to see how it is that Somnus has overtaken him. On the
floor beneath his chair are perceptible a pair of very coquettish
satin boots, while his own pierrofs costume and the most
unmentionable portions of a debardeur's costume, complete
the evidence of this tale of guilt. The wretch ! There is
somebody else asleep in an alcove not far from tliat studio. I
said the boots were of white satin. You may ask how, the
material of the whole being terra cotta, I could have arrived
at such a conclusion ? I answer that the evidence, quite un-
mistakable, of this and other facts, is due to the marvellous
texture which M. Harze has given to clay. He seems to be
able to do everything with and in his stubborn material.
Lace, filigree, embroidery, the pile of velvet, the ribbing of
silk, the sheen of satin, the embroidery on a ribbon, the nap
of cloth, the dull softness of felt, the harder surface of leather,
the roughness of stone, the smoothness of ivory, the fluff of
feathers, the embossed mosaic of Berlin wool, the very grain
of wood and veining of marble, the exquisite anatomy of
leaves and ferns, the blading of grass, the petals of flowers,
the down which is under the wings of birds all these he has
imitated in baked clay. His figures have backgrounds, too,
with curtains, pictures, bird-cages, busts, bookcases, candle-
sticks, sheets of music, the very crotchets and quavers accu-
rately noted. I hold these terra cottas of M. Leopold. Harz
to be the most admirable specimens of purely imitative art
that have been seen these thirty years.

Ere I dismiss the subject of terra cottas 1 must say a word


concerning three very admirable works in baked clay in the
United States courts. These should properly have been in
the Fine Arts gallery ; but for some unaccountable reason
they are jumbled up with Chickering's pianos, and dentists'
chairs, and billiard tables, glass bottles, cast-iron clocks,
Californian and Vermont marble chimney-pieces, surgical
instruments, patent plumbago pencils, and stuffed birds and
beasts. " The Oath and Eations " is the title of the first
group. A Southern lady, young, comely, graceful, but
desperately poverty-stricken in appearance, has come, with
her little child clinging to her skirt, to the "Freedman's
bureau," to " draw " a sufficiency of bread and meat to sustain

Online LibraryGeorge Augustus Henry SalaNotes and sketches of the Paris exhibition → online text (page 7 of 28)