By GABRIEL MOUREY, Paris, Laurens.
In 8o, 128 ill., 24 ill. outside text. (Grands Artistes Coll.)
M. Gabriel Mourey has just written a short, substantial and delightful book on Gainsborough. It appears in the excellent Laurens series that has furnished us, under the label of simple mementoes and summaries, with works of genuine and powerful originality, such as Albert Dürer by M. Auguste Marguillier and Nicholas Poussin by M. Paul Desjardins.
Tom Gainsborough arrived at school one day with a note signed by his father, asking that his son take the day off, and there he is going off into the fields, into the woods, intoxicated with his freedom, observing, dreaming, drawing. Come evening, he returned home. But the subterfuge had been discovered: Tom had forged John Gainsborough's handwriting. "You will end up on the gallows!" exclaimed the honest fellow. But Tom... did not say a word, he simply showed his father his day's work, his drawings; the paternal anger was appeased. Another day, thieves ransacked the Gainsboroughs' orchard; Tom hid himself, and surprising one of them who had climbed into one of the pear trees, made a quick sketch, but it was so life-like that it was produced in the magistrate's court to secure a conviction. That was the initial sketch for his painting Jack Peartree 1. Such lovely, meaningful anecdotes, so eloquent, so expressive! So many things: in it I see the grandeur of irresistible leanings, the documentary usefulness of the work of art ("a work of art", said Ruskin, "should be a chapter of geology, or botany, or ornithology, a legal document," etc.) and also the curious hierarchy of duties in the innate morality of the artist, for whom the good is that which supports inspiration, the bad that which paralyzes it, - here the good: the counterfeit signature and the pastoral school (an apt word for a landscape painter!), the bad: the class that could teach him nothing. Later this brave and honest Gainsborough, praiseworthy and generous to boot, did not disdain money, because money is not something fatal to the artist, but, in his studio, in the "elegant centre" of Bath, he distrusted society people whose company, if they were motivated by snobbishness, debilitates and kills the best talents. "You squander your gifts among gentlemen," he wrote to his friend Jackson, "and all your study is but the means to become a gentleman. Well, gentlemen be damned, there is no kind of enemy more to be feared by the true artist when he doesn't keep them at a safe distance. They possess only one thing worth the trouble of seeing them: their money. When gentlemen come to my house my servant asks them what they want; if they say: "A painting", "Please wait here, sir, and my master will come and speak to you", but if they want to greet me and praise me: "My master is not at home, sir..."".
With respect to Gainsborough and English painting, M. Gabriel Mourey repeatedly evokes the great Ruskin. It is a fact known by a whole elite today, that one cannot pay sufficient respect to English painting of the last two centuries without citing the testimony of Ruskin, and, reciprocally, all the respect paid to the painters that M. Mourey celebrates, Gainsborough, Turner, is respect paid to Ruskin. As for myself I do not know a more touching proof than the following anecdote, which I shall relate to finish off with and which can be added, with some significance, to the anecdotes I mentioned above. M. Groult, whose collection is the Louvre of English painting (our own Louvre, alas!, contains so little) will be the subject. When Ruskin died, this eminent collector thought with sadness of the loss of this great aesthete who spent his life in praise of Lawrence and Gainsborough, in the passionate defence of Turner. And not knowing what to do, asking himself how in his own way he could celebrate the illustrious deceased, he... bought a Turner. To my mind this offering to the dead, this almost pagan offering, to the one he had loved most in the world, would have been the dearest to Ruskin's heart. And I remember at the time I believed I saw in it something of a poetic gesture.
1. Earliest surviving painting by Thomas Gainsborough.
La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité,
9 March 1907.
Return to Front Page