Impressions of the Salons

   We have once again this year two clans of painters who are at war with each other: those from the Champs-Élysées, and those from the Champ de Mars1. Some hold out for tradition, they are The School; the others proclaim for themselves youth and freedom. These labels do not perhaps mean a great deal, since in the end the goal to be reached is always the same and it is a question of two parts - nobody can deny it - of connecting directly with nature and to render as successfully as possible the impressions it has made the artist experience. However, it seems to me that the Champs de Mars has succeeded best in its endeavours; there everything is more diverting and above all the number of mediocre pictures is less enormous. I know full well that everybody says the tradition of "great painting" lives on at the Champs-Élysées. Well, good heavens! what is this "great painting"? Is it in the gigantic dimensions of the canvas? In that case poor old Rochegrosse2 is our greatest painter, and several of his colleagues from the centre for Industry are hardly inferior to him; but if great art is simply that which ennobles us, which makes us think of so many higher things, which stirs the soul by caressing the eyes, truly I find it so much more in the other camp. Nevertheless, it is my impressions that I am noting, totally personal impressions that I acknowledge are subject to caution and to rebuttal.
   We are raised up from the ground with Puvis de Chavannes3, or rather we would wish to be raised up with him into his world of dream, of profound peace, into that veiled, but in no way heavy atmosphere inhabited by characters from an ethereal, though not unreal existence; we think we know this beautiful countryside; we have felt on some blissful days the delights of a beautiful summer afternoon, but not, indeed, with such force, such intensity. The charm of two pictures from the Rouen museum only penetrates little by little, but they end by isolating you from all the other paintings that surround them. How will it be when we see them in place, divorced from those red wall coverings that, at first sight, destroy their sweet harmony?
   Puvis personifies dream, the contemplative life; Besnard4, movement, brilliant colours, life in all its brightness, nature enlarged, I would say idealized were the word not used so often in a banal way. I do not know of a more seductive portrait than this one of two sisters arm in arm, delicate, mischievous, with pearly skin, simply dressed in green tulle held at the waist by a white ribbon, one leaning back slightly in a proud gesture, but not haughty, the other stooping down to pick a flower, effortlessly, with no affectation5. They stand out from the intense background of a sward of dark foliage, of a vigorous, deep, unctuous blue. It has the magnificence of beautiful Rubens, their boldness, with grace, delicacy too. It is the image of joyous youth, of springtime. Besnard is exhibiting another portrait of equal importance, but evoking a quite different feeling: its touch is more intimate, more hidden; it is also darker in tone; next three small canvases: an Annunciation of primitive conception with a Gozzolian angel taking wing in a delightful landscape; a curious impression of sunset and an interior, a table set (what a still life!) by a widow opening onto a background of cliffs6. Let us not forget his sketches (designs for stained-glass) in such glorious colour, in such a loose design, calling to mind, without imitating them in the least, Japanese compositions, because, like the Japanese, Besnard knows how to look at and has a profound love for the master of masters, Nature.
   Edelfelt7 too loves sunshine, joyous bright colours. He has, apart from his incomparable water-colours, two charming works: two little Finnish girls walking through a sunlit avenue8, an interior of an Italian café9, and finally a large canvas of sincere and robust mysticism, Christ and Magdalen based on Scandinavian legend10.
   I am pointing out at random the paintings that particularly moved me; firstly Kuehl, who likewise develops the theme of light in Sunlight11, which brings to mind something of Peter de Hoogh12; in Bad News13 he is more personal. - Dessar, a young American, has introduced a lot of poetry in his Gone Fishing14. Kowalsky15 will be interesting to follow. There are sincere and singularly successful seekers such as Jeanniot in his Effet de neige16, Billotte with his views of Paris, so real, so poetic17, Lepère18 with his boldness of palette, Barrau19, Lebourg20, Stetten in his studies21, Dagnan22, too is such a seeker, although perhaps with less self-confidence. His Départ des conscrits23, is of heroic, noble conception, like everything that comes to us from this great artist. But if each conscript, taken individually, is marvellously executed, their group is not truly alive with a common life; each is alone in his private thoughts, we get no sense of the great wind that stirs crowds into motion; it even struck me that there is a lack of air in this street where young men are singing. Dagnan, on the other hand, is exhibiting next to a genuine masterpiece, a young girl swathed in blue drapery, in a profoundly poetic atmosphere24. We find a similar poetry in Lerolle25, albeit this year, in his case, somewhat obscure; we find it too in Cazin26, whose beautiful landscapes are rather more metallic that we are accustomed to; in Lagarde's Jean d'Arc27; then, very intense and freeing himself from its fog (too willingly perhaps), in the curious works of Carrière28, in his intimate compositions, in his so personal compositions.
   Such fine portraits at both exhibitions! We could not begin to mention them all; we regret not dwelling on each one and making a simple enumeration of them, full, alas! of gaps.
   The most striking (and this is the unanimous opinion) is a portrait of the beautiful Mme Gautereau29 by Courtois; here too is one of the painter Stetten30 by the same artist, the portrait of a child by Sargent31, solid, full of life and character, there is the work of a great master such as the portrait of the Cardinal of Sens32 by Delauny; one by Bonnat33, portraits by Carolus-Duran34, by Chaplin (a good Chaplin)35, by Chartran36, by Dubois37, a lovely female portrait by Humbert38, a priest39 by Mlle Virginie Porgès, portraits by Mme Roth40 are all of note; those by Boldini41, by Blanche42, very singular, sometimes a little exaggerated in their animation, but well observed; if we are looking for a lighter palette, more supple and less dull shades, especially in the shadows, delicate little portraits by Jarraud43, one or two portrait studies by Stevens (especially the one of the lady in yellow44), a much earlier but quite extraordinary portrait by Whistler45: all this is of great interest too.
   This self-same Whistler has a quite exquisite sea-scape46. Some other canvases remain for me to mention; Renan has a charming view of Algeria47; Dumoulin48, frank and bold Italian studies; Pointelin49 still has a melancholy aspect. And I have still not mentioned the vigorous works by Ribot50, "Chardinesque" still-lives by Zakarian51, one by Bergeret52, more important, more personal, one finally by the great master Vollon53.
   Still less do I dare tackle the sculpture, despite the great names of Falguière54, Dubois55, Rodin56, but since these are my own personal impressions that I set down here, I cannot finish without saying a few words about the impressions several great artists made me feel, artists who work in the admirable "lesser genres". Gallé57, the artist in glass, is perhaps our most brilliant poet: an owl's wing, some birds in the snow, dragon-flies with dark or gleaming colours provide him with his theme and manage to make us shiver all over. Roty58 the engraver gives us the same profound sensation with his wonderful medallions, especially one of Sir John Pope Hennesi, one for the Alpine Club, and his commemorative plaque of a family anniversary, three accomplished works of art. Finally Delaherche59 and Chaplet60 follow in these elevated paths with their beautiful ceramics.
   Such talent! such noble endeavours! I would need a much more weighty pen to express my ardent admiration. If however I have succeeded in awakening in my readers a few tried and tested artistic sensations, my goal will have been achieved; if on the other hand someone among them is irritated at my words, as in

   By speaking of our misfortunes we often relieve them61

the Mensuel would be pleased to welcome his reply. In any case the answer would be simple; we have no difficulty in removing all trace of


Le Mensuel, no 8, May 1891.

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1. Champs-Élysées: Salon des artistes français. Champs de Mars: Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

2. La Mort de Babylone, Salon des artistes français, Georges Rochegrosse (1859 - 1938), French painter.

3. L'Eté, panneau décoratif, La Poterie, La Céramique, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 - 1898), French painter. The last two paintings are kept at Rouen Museum of Fine Arts.

4. Albert Besnard (1849 - 1934), French painter.

5. Portrait de Melles D., Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

6. Annunciation, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

7. Albert Edelfeldt (1854 - 1905), Finnish painter.

8. Under the Birches, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

9. Italian Café, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

10. Mary Magdalen, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

11. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Gotthardt-Johann Kuehl (1850 - 1915), German painter.

12. Pieter de Hoogh (1629 - 1683), Dutch painter.

13. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

14. Salon des artistes français. Louis-Paul Dessar (1867 - 1952), American painter.

15. Lépold-Franz Kowalsky (1856 - 1931), French painter.

16. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Georges Jeanniot (1848 - 1934), French painter and engraver.

17. Un coin de Paris, Lever de lune à la Garenne-Bezon, La route des carrières, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. René Billotte (1846 - 1915), French painter.

18. Auguste Lepère (1849 - 1918), French painter and engraver.

19. Laureano Barrau (1863 - 1957), Spanish painter?

20. Albert Lebourg (1849 - 1928), French painter.

21. Carl-Ernst von Stetten (1857 - ?), German painter.

22. Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1852 - 1929), French painter.

23. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

24. Étude de jeune fille.

25. Henry Lerolle (1848 - 1929), French painter.

26. Jean-Charles Cazin (1841 - 1901), French painter.

27. Salon des artistes français. Pierre Lagarde (1853 - 1910), French painter.

28. Portraits of Alphonse Daudet, Paul Verlaine, Gustave Geffroy, Armand Berton, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Eugène Carrière (1849 - 1906), French painter.

29. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Gustave Claude Etienne Courtois (1853 - 1923), French painter.

30. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

31. Portrait of a Young Boy, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925), American painter.

32. Portrait de l'archevêque de Sens, Salon des artistes français. Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828 - 1891), French painter.

33. Portrait de Mme Ac., Salon des artistes français. Léon Bonnat (1833 - 1922), French painter.

34. Portrait de Miss L., Portrait de Mme P., Portrait de Miss A., Portrait des enfants du prince A. de B., Portrait du Baron C.G., Portrait de René Billotte, Portrait de Violette C., Portrait de Mme C., Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Carolus-Duran (Charles Durand) (1837 - 1917), French painter.

35. Portrait de madame la comtesse P. de M., Salon des artistes français. Charles Chaplin (1825 - 1891), French painter.

36. Portrait de Melle Brandès, Portrait de Mme K., Salon des artistes français. Théobald Chartran (1849 - 1907), French painter.

37. Portrait du prince de B., Portrait du docteur Lannelongue, Salon des artistes français. M. Dubois ? French painter.

38. Portrait de Mme R., Salon des artistes français. Jacques-Fernand Humbert (1842 - 1934), French painter.

39. Salon des artistes français. Virginie Porgès (1864 - ?), French painter.

40. Portrait de Mme C.O. et ses enfants, Portrait de Mme M. d'A., Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Clémence Roth (1858 - ?), French painter.

41. Portrait de Mme S., Portrait de M. S., Portrait de Mme D., Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Giovanni Boldini (1842 - 1931), Italian painter.

42. Portrait de Mme Blanche, Portrait de Mme Abel Hermant, Portrait de Mlle Reichenerg, Portrait de M. Maurice Barrès, Portrait de M. Georges Moore, Portrait de J. Pringle Mitchell, Portrait de M. Achille Rivard, Portrait de MM. J.-E. Blanche et R. de Ochoa, Portrait de M. Paul Baignières, Portrait de M. Henri de Régnier, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861 - 1942), French painter.

43. Portrait de Mme L.W., Portrait de M. Melan, Portrait de Mme Melan, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Leonard Jarraud (1848 - 1926), French painter.

44. La Dame jaune, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Alfred Stevens (1823 - 1906), Belgian painter.

45. Portrait. Arrangement in black no. 7, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. James Abott McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903), American painter.

46. Seascape, harmony in green and opal, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Whistler's seascapes were one of the models for Port de Carquethuit painted by Elstir in RTP. This mention of one of them is fourteen years before the famous retrospective exhibition of Whistler at the École des Beaux-Arts, seen and admired by Proust and to which is generally associated his passionate interest in the painter.

47. Le Trou de la fièvre, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Ary Renan (1857 - 1900), French painter, poet and critic.

48. Le Forum, Saint-Pierre et le Vatican, Les Thermes de Caracalla, Le Nymphaeum de la maison de Flavie, La Place de la Trinité-des-Monts, La Place de Peuple avant l'ouverture du carnaval, L'Arc de Titus, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Louis-Jules Dumoulin (1860 - 1924), French painter.

49. Auguste Pointelin (1839 - 1933), French painter.

50. Germain Theodore Ribot (1845 - 1893), French painter.

51. Un panier de prunes, Verre d'eau et fruits, Le Jambon, Fromage et lierre, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Zacharie Zakarian (1849 - 1923), French painter.

52. Denis Pierre Bergeret (1846 - 1910), French painter. No still-life by Bergeret seems to have figured in the 1891 exhibitions by the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts or the Salon des artistes français.

53. Antoine Vollon (1833 - 1900), French painter. No still-life by Vollon seems to have figured in the 1891 exhibitions by the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts or the Salon des artistes français.

54. Salon des artistes français. Alexandre Falguière (1831 - 1900), French painter and sculptor.

55. Salon des artistes français. Paul Dubois (1829 - 1905) French painter and sculptor.

56. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), French sculptor.

57. Emile Gallé (1846 - 1904), French manufacturer, glass-maker and cabinet-maker. Gallé showed two vases at the exhibition of the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1891 - the first Société nationale des Beaux-Arts exhibition to be open to the decorative arts. One of them, Eaux dormantes, which is decorated against a blue background, ornamented with dragon-flies - is kept today in the Musée d'Orsay.

58. Société nationale des Beaux-Arts. Oscar Roty (1846 - 1911), French medallion artist.

59. Auguste Delaherche (1857 - 1940), French ceramics artist. Fifteen stoneware vases, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

60. Ernest Chaplet (1825 - 1891), French ceramics artist. A showcase of ceramic vases, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts.

61. Corneille, Polyeucte (1643).


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