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GEORGE DU MAURIER 351

abundant and various, has given us more impressions
than we can hope to put into form. The result of
sitting for several hours at such a banquet of drollery,
of poring over so many caricatures, of catching the
point of so many jokes, is a kind of indigestion of
the visual sense. This is especially the case if one
happens to be liable to confusions and lapses of
memory. Every picture, every pleasantry, drives
the last out of the mind, and even the figures we
recall best get mixed up with another story than
their own. The early drawings, as a general thing,
are larger than the late ones; we believe that the
artist was obliged to make them large in order to
make them at all. (They were then photographed,
much reduced, upon the block ; and it is impossible
to form an idea of the delicacy of Du Maurier's work
without having seen the designs themselves, which
are in pen and ink.) As the years have gone on the
artist has apparently been able to use a shorter stroke,
there has been less need of reducing it, and the full-
page picture has become more rare. The wealth of
execution was sometimes out of proportion to the
jest beneath the cut ; the joke might be as much or
as little of a joke as one would, the picture was at
any rate before all things a picture. What could be
more charming than the drawing (24th October 1868)
of the unconscious Oriana and the ingenious Jones ?
It is a real work of art, a thing to have had the
honours of colour, and of the " line " at the Academy;
and that the artist should have been able to give it



352 GEORGE DU MATJRIER

to us for threepence, on the reverse of a printed
page, is a striking proof of his affluence. The uncon-
scious Oriana she is drawn very large sits in the
foreground, in the shadow of some rocks that orna-
ment the sands at a bathing-place. Her beautiful
hair falls over her shoulders (she has been taking her
bath, and has hung her tresses out to dry), and her
charming eyes are bent upon the second volume of a
novel. The beach stretches away into the distance
with all the expression of space; and here the
ingenious Jones carries out his little scheme of
catching a portrait of the object an object pro-
foundly indifferent of his adoration. He pretends
to sit to an itinerant photographer, and apparently
places himself in the line of the instrument, which in
reality, thanks to a private understanding with the
artist, is focussed upon the figure of his mistress.
There is not much landscape in Du Maurier the
background is almost always an interior; but when-
ever he attempts an out-of-door scene he does it ad-
mirably. What could be prettier and at the same
time more real than the big view (9th September
1876) of the low tide on Scarborough sands? We
forget the joke, but we remember the scene two
or three figures, with their backs to us, leaning
over a terrace or balcony in the foreground, and
looking down at the great expanse of the uncovered
beach, which is crowded with the activities of a
populous bathing-place. The bathers, the walkers,
the machines, the horses, the dogs, are seen with



GEORGE DU MAURIER 353

distinctness a multitude of little black points as
under a magnifying glass; the whole place looks vast
and swarming, and the particular impression the
artist wished to convey is thoroughly caught. The
particular impression that is the great point with
Du Maurier; his intention is never vague; he likes
to specify the place, the hour, the circumstances. We
forget the joke, but we remember the scene. This
may easily happen, as one looks over Du Maurier's
work ; we frankly confess that though he often
amuses us, he never strikes us primarily as a joker.
It is not the exuberance of his humour but the
purity of his line that arrests us, and we think of
him much less as a purveyor of fun than as a
charming draughtsman who has been led by cir-
cumstances to cultivate a vein of pleasantry. At
every turn we find the fatal gift of beauty, by
which we mean that his people are so charming that
their prettiness throws the legend into the shade.
Beauty comes so easily to him that he lavishes it
with unconscious freedom. If he represents Ange-
lina reprimanding the housemaid, it is ten- to one
that Angelina will be a Juno and the housemaid a
Hebe. Whatever be the joke, this element of grace
almost makes the picture serious. The point of
course is not that Angelina should be lovely, but
that the housemaid should be ridiculous ; and you
feel that if you should call the artist's attention to
this he would reply : " I am really very sorry, but
she is the plainest woman I can make for the
2 A



354 GEORGE DU MAURIER

money!" This is what happens throughout his
women (and we may add his children) being mono-
tonously, incorrigibly fair. He is exceedingly fond
of children; he has represented them largely at
every age and in every attitude ; but we can
scarcely recall an instance of his making them any-
thing but beautiful. They are always delightful
they are the nicest children in the world. They
say droll things, but they never do ugly ones, and
their whole child -world is harmonious and happy.
We might have referred that critic whom we quoted
above, who observed in Dti Maurier's manner the
element of "ferocity," to the leniency of his treat-
ment of the rising generation. The children of
Cham are little monsters ; so are Daumier's ; and
the infants of Gavarni, with a grace of their own,
like everything he drew, are simply rather dimin-
utive and rather more sophisticated adults. Du
Maurier is fond of large families, of the pictur-
esqueness of the British nursery ; he is a votary of
the culte du bebd and has never a happier touch
than when he represents a blooming brood walking
out in gradations of size. The pretty points of
children are intimately known to him, and he throws
them into high relief ; he understands, moreover, the
infant wardrobe as well as the infant mind. His
little boys and girls are " turned out " with a com-
pleteness which has made the despair of many an
American mother. It may perhaps appear invidious
to say that the little girls are even nicer than the



GEORGE DU MAURIER 355

little boys, but this is no more than natural, with
the artist's delicate appreciation of female loveliness.
It begins, to his vision, in the earliest periods and
goes on increasing till it is embodied in the stature
of those slim Junos of whom we have spoken.

It is easy to see that Du Maurier is of the emi-
nently justifiable opinion that nothing in the world is
so fair as the fairness of fair women ; and if so many
of his women are fair, it is to be inferred that he has
a secret for drawing out their advantages. This
secret, indeed, is simply that fineness of perception
of which we have already had occasion to speak and
to which it is necessary so often to refer. He is
evidently of the opinion that almost any woman has
beauty if you look at her in the right way carefully
enough, intelligently enough ; and that a fortiori
the exceptionally handsome women contain treasures
of plasticity. Feminine line and surface, curves of
shoulder, stretches of arm, turns of head, undulations
of step, are matters of attentive study to him ; and
his women have for the most part the art of looking
as if they excelled in amiability as much as in con-
tour. We know a gentleman who, on being requested
to inscribe himself on one of those formidable folios
kept in certain houses, in which you indite the name
of your favourite flower, favourite virtue, favourite
historical character, wrote, in the compartment dedi-
cated to the " three favourite qualities in a woman" the
simple words: "Grace. Grace. Grace." Du Maurier
might have been this gentleman, for his women are



356 GEORGE DU MAURIER

inveterately and imperturbably graceful. We have
heard people complain of it ; complain too that
they all look alike, that they are always sisters all
products of a single birth. They have indeed a
mutual resemblance ; but when once the beautiful
type has been found, we see no reason why, from a
restless love of change, the artist should depart from
it. We should feel as if Du Maurier had been fickle
and faithless if he were suddenly to cease to offer us
the tall, tranquil persons he understands so well.
They have an inestimable look of repose, a kind of
Greek serenity. There is a figure in a cut of which
we have forgotten both the " point " and the date
(we mention it at hazard it is one in a hundred),
which only needed to be modelled in clay to be a
truly " important " creation. A couple of children ad-
dress themselves to a youthful aunt, who leans her
hand upon a toilet-table, presenting her back, clothed
in a loose gown, not gathered in at the waist, to the
spectator. Her charming pose, the way her head
slowly turns, the beautiful folds of her robe, make
her look more like a statuette in a museum than like
a figure in Punch. We have forgotten what the
children are saying, but we remember her charming
attitude, which is a capital example of the love of
beauty for beauty's sake. It is the same bias as
the characteristic of the poet.

The intention of these remarks has been supposed
to be rather a view of Du Maurier in his relation
to English society than a technical estimate of his



GEORGE DU JVIAURIER 357

powers a line of criticism to which we may already
appear unduly to have committed ourselves. He is
predominantly a painter of social as distinguished
from popular life, and when the other day he
collected some of his drawings into a volume he
found it natural to give them the title of English
Society at Home. He looks at the luxurious classes
more than at the people, though he by no means
ignores the humours of humble life. His considera-
tion of the peculiarities of costermongers and
" cadgers " is comparatively perfunctory, as he is
too fond of civilisation and of the higher refine-
ments of the grotesque. His colleague, the frank
and objective Keene, has a more natural famili-
arity with the British populace. There is a whole
side of English life at which Du Maurier scarcely
glances the great sporting element, which sup-
plies half of their gaiety and all their conversation
to millions of her Majesty's subjects. He is shy of
the turf and of the cricket-field ; he only touches
here and there upon the river; but he has made
"society" completely his own he has sounded its
depths, explored its mysteries, discovered and di-
vulged its secrets. His observation of these things
is extraordinarily acute, and his illustrations, taken
together, form a complete comedy of manners, in
which the same personages constantly reappear, so
that we have the sense, indispensable to keenness of
interest, of tracing their adventures to a climax.
So many of the conditions of English life are spec-



358 GEORGE DU MAURIER

tacular (and to American eyes even romantic) that
Du Maurier has never been at a loss for subjects.
He may have been at a loss for his joke we
hardly see how he could fail to be, at the rate at
which he has been obliged to produce ; but we repeat
that to ourselves the joke is the least part of the
affair. We mean that he is never at a loss for
scenes. English society makes scenes all round
him, and he has only to look to see the most charm-
ing combinations, which at the same time have the
merit that you can always take the satirical view of
them. He sees, for instance, the people in the
Park ; the crowd that gathers under the trees on
June afternoons to watch the spectacle of the Eow,
with the slow, solemn jostle of the drive going on
behind it. Such a spectacle as this may be vain and
unprofitable to a mind bent upon higher business,
but it is full of material for the artist, who finds a
fund of inspiration in the thousand figures, faces,
types, accidents, attitudes. The way people stand
and sit, the way they stroll and pause, the way they
lean over the rail to talk to one of the riders, the
way they stare and yawn and bore themselves
these things are charming to Du Maurier, who always
reproduces the act with wonderful fidelity. This we
should bear in mind, having spoken above of his
aversion to the violent. He has indeed a preference
for quiet and gradual movements. But it is not in
the least because he is not able to make the move-
ment definite. No one represents a particular atti-



GEORGE DU MAURIER 359

tude better than he ; and it is not too much to say
that the less flagrant the attitude, the more latent
its intention, the more successfully he represents it.

The postures people take while they are waiting
for dinner, while they are thinking what to say,
while they are pretending to listen to music, while
they are making speeches they don't mean ; the
thousand strange and dreary expressions (of face and
figure) which the detached mind may catch at any
moment in wandering over a collection of people
who are supposed to be amusing themselves in a
superior manner all this is entirely familiar to Du
Maurier ; he renders it with inimitable fidelity. His
is the detached mind he takes refuge in the divine
independence of art. He reproduces to the life the
gentleman who is looking with extraordinary solem-
nity at his boots, the lady who is gazing with sudden
rapture at the ceiling, the grimaces of fifty people
who would be surprised at their reflection if the
mirror were suddenly to be presented to them. In
such visions as these of course the comical mingles
with the beautiful, and fond as Du Maurier is of the
beautiful, it is sometimes heroically sacrificed. At
any rate the comic effect is (in the drawing) never
missed. The legend that accompanies it may some-
times appear to be wanting in the grossest drollery,
but the expression of the figures is always such that
you must say : " How he has hit it ! " This is the
kind of comedy in which Du Maurier excels the
comedy of those social relations in which the incon-



360 GEORGE DU MAURIER

gruities are pressed beneath the surface, so that the
picture has need of a certain amount of explanation.
The explanation is often rather elaborate in many
cases one may almost fancy that the image came first
and the motive afterward. That is, it looks as if the
artist, having seen a group of persons in certain
positions, had said to himself : " They must or at
least they may be saying so and so;" and then
had represented these positions and affixed the inter-
pretation. He passes over none of those occasions
on which society congregates the garden-party, the
picnic, the floAver-show, the polo-match (though he
has not much cultivated the humours of sport, he
has represented polo more than once, and he has
done ample justice to lawn-tennis, just as he did it,
years ago, to the charming, dawdling, "spooning"
tedium of croquet, which he depicted as played only
by the most adorable young women, with the most
diminutive feet) ; but he introduces us more par-
ticularly to indoors entertainments to the London
dinner-party in all those variations which cover such
a general sameness ; to the afternoon tea, to the
fashionable "squash," to the late and suffocating
" small and early," to the scientific conversazione, to
the evening with a little music. His musical parties
are numerous and admirable he has exposed in
perfection the weak points of those entertainments :
the infatuated tenor, bawling into the void of the
public indifference ; the air of lassitude that pervades
the company ; the woe-begone look of certain faces ;



GEORGE DU MAURIER 361

the false and overacted attention of certain others; the
young lady who is wishing to sing, and whose mamma
is glaring at the young lady who is singing ; the brist-
ling heads of foreigners of the professional class, which
stand out against the sleekness of British respectability.
Du Maurier understands the foreigner as no cari-
caturist has done hitherto ; and we hasten to add
that his portraits of continental types are never
caricatures. They are serious studies, in which
the idiosyncrasies of the race in question are vividly
presented. His Germans would be the best if
his French folk were not better still ; but he has
rendered most happily the aspect and indeed the
very temperament of the German pianist. He has
not often attempted the American ; and the American
reader who turns over the back volumes of Punch
and encounters the cartoons, born under an evil star,
in which, during the long weary years of the War,
the obedient pencil of Mr. Tenniel contributed at
the expense of the American physiognomy to the
gaiety of nations, will not perhaps regret that Du
Maurier should have avoided this particular field of
portraiture. It is not, however, that he has not
occasionally been inspired by the American girl,
whom he endows with due prettiness, as in the case
of the two transatlantic young ladies who, in the
presence of a fine Alpine view, exclaim to a British
admirer : " My ! ain't it rustic ? " As for the French,
he knows them intimately, as he has a right to do.
He thinks better of the English of course ; but his



362 GEORGE DU MAURIER

Frenchman is a very different affair from the French-
man of Leech the Frenchman who is sea-sick (as if
it were the appanage of his race alone !) on the
Channel steamer. In such a matter as this Du
Maurier is really psychological ; he is versed in the
qualities which illustrate the difference of race. He
accentuates first of course the physical variation ;
he contrasts with a subtlety which may not at first
receive all the credit it deserves the long, fair
English body, inclined to the bony, the lean, the
angular, with the short, plump French personality,
in which the neck is rarely a feature, in which the
stomach is too much of one, in which the calves of
the legs grow fat, in which in the women several of
the joints, the wrists, the shape of the hand, are apt
to be charming. Some of his happiest drawings are
reminiscences of a midsummer sojourn at a French
watering-place. We have long been in the habit of
looking for Punch with peculiar impatience at this
season of the year. When the artist goes to France
he takes his big dog with him, and he has more than
once commemorated the effect of this impressive
member of a quiet English family upon the Norman
and Breton populations. There have appeared at
this time certain anecdotic pictures of English tra-
vellers in French towns in shops, markets, tram-
cars in which some of the deeper disparities of the
two peoples have been (under the guise of its being
all a joke) very sufficiently exposed. Du Maurier
on the whole does justice to the French ; his English



GEORGE DU MAURIER 363

figures, in these international tableaux, by no means
always come off best. When the English family of
many persons troops into the charcutier's or the
perfumer's and stands planted there mute, inex-
pressive, perpendicular the demonstrations, the
professions, the abundant speech of the neat, plump,
insinuating boutiquiere are a well-intended tribute to
the high civilisation of her country. Du Maurier
has done the " low " foreigner of the London (or of
his native) streets the foreigner whose unspeakable
baseness prompts the Anglo-Saxon observer to
breathe the Pharisee's vow of thanks that he is not
as these people are ; but, as we have seen, he has
done the low Englishman quite as well the 'Arry
of the London music-halls, the companion of 'And-
some 'Arriet and Mr. Belville. Du Maurier's render-
ing of 'Arry's countenance, with its bloated purple
bloom, of 'Arry's figure, carriage and costume of
his deportment at the fancy fair, where the profes-
sional beauties solicit his custom is a triumph of
exactitude. One of the most poignant of the draw-
ings that illustrate his ravages in our civilisation is
the large design which a year or two ago represented
the narrow canal beneath the Bridge of Sighs. The
hour is evening, and the period is the detested date
at which the penny-steamer was launched upon the
winding water-ways of the loveliest city in the
world. The odious little vessel, belching forth a
torrent of black smoke, passes under the covered ,
arch which connects the ducal palace with the ducal



364 GEORGE DU MAURIER

prison. 'Andsome 'Arriet and Mr. Belville (person-
ally conducted) are of course on board, and 'Arriet
remarks that the Bridge of Sighs isn't much of a
size after all. To which her companion rejoins that
it has been immortalised by Byron, any way " 'im
as wrote ' Our Boys/ you know." This fragment of
dialogue expresses concisely the arguments both for
and against the importation of the cheap and nasty
into Venetian waters.

Returning for a moment to Du Maurier's sketches
of the French, we must recall the really interesting
design in which, at a child's party at the Casino of
a station balne'aire, a number of little natives are invit-
ing a group of English children to dance. The French
children have much the better manners ; they make
their little bows with a smile, they click their heels
together and crook their little arms as they offer
them to their partners. The sturdy British infants
are dumb, mistrustful, vaguely bewildered. Pres-
ently you perceive that in the very smart attire of
the gracious little Gauls everything is wrong their
high heels, their poor little legs, at once too bare
and too much covered, their superfluous sashes and
scarfs. The small English are invested in plain
Jerseys and knickerbockers. The whole thing is a
pearl of observation, of reflection. Let us recall
also the rebuke administered to M. Dubois, the dis-
tinguished young man of science who, just arrived
from Paris and invited to dine by the Duke of Stil-
ton, mentions this latter fact in apology for being



GEORGE DU MAURIER 365

late to a gentleman to whose house he goes on leav-
ing the Duke's. This gentleman, assisted by Mr.
Grigsby (both of them specimens of the snob-philis-
tine whom Du Maurier has brought to such perfec-
tion), reprehends him in a superior manner for his
rashness, reminds him that in England it is "not
usual for a professional man " to allude in that pro-
miscuous manner to having dined with a duke a
privilege which Grigsby characterises " the perfection
of consummate achievement" The advantage is
here with poor M. Dubois, who is a natural and
sympathetic figure, a very gentil little Frenchman.
The advantage is doubtless also with Mile. Sewurier
and her mother, though Mademoiselle is not very
pretty, in a scene in which, just after the young lady
has been singing at Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns's,
the clever Mrs. Ponsonby plays her off on the
Duchess (as an inducement to come to another
party) and then plays the Duchess off on the little
vocalist and her mother, who, in order to secure the
patronage of the Duchess, promise to come to the
entertainment in question. The clever Mrs. Pon-
sonby thus gets both the Duchess and the vocalist
for nothing. The broad -faced French girl, with
small, salient eyes, her countenance treated in the
simplest and surest manner, is a capital specimen of
Du Manner's skill in race-portraiture ; and though
they may be a knowing couple in their way, we are
sure that she and her mamma are incapable of the
machinations of Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns.



366 GEORGE DU MAURIER

This lady is a real creation. She is an incident
of one of the later phases of Du Maurier's activity
a child of the age which has also produced Mrs.
Cimabue Brown and Messrs. Maudle and Postleth-
waite. She is not one of the heroines of the aesthetic
movement, though we may be sure she dabbles in
that movement so far as it pays to do so. Mrs.
Ponsonby de Tomkyns is a little of everything, in
so far as anything pays. She is always on the look-
out, she never misses an opportunity. She is not a
specialist, for that cuts off too many opportunities,
and the aesthetic people have the tort, as the French
say, to be specialists. No, Mrs. Ponsonby de Tom-
kyns is what shall we call her ? well, she is the
modern social spirit. She is prepared for everything ;
she is ready to take advantage of everything; she
would invite Mr. Bradlaugh to dinner if she thought
the Duchess would come to meet him. The Duchess
is her great achievement she never lets go of her
Duchess. She is young, very nice-looking, slim,
graceful, indefatigable. She tires poor Ponsonby
completely out ; she can keep going for hours after
poor- Ponsonby is reduced to stupefaction. This
unfortunate husband is indeed almost always stupe-
fied. He is not, like his wife, a person of imagina-
tion. She leaves him far behind, though he is so


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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 21 of 24)