Studio: international art — 1.1893

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The Royal Academy (First Letter). By A. Besnard

ceipts. They believe in the genius of mere surface
and " matiere," which is, doubtless, convenient.

The first time that I had the opportunity of
reading deep into the soul of an English painter
was but a few years ago, in one of those charming
studios which can only be found in London—
luxurious retreats and delicious, where comfort is
married to fantasy. My host, a charming man,
a painter of recognised talent, very near being a
Royal Academician (though he cared not a whit for
that), who, with his long curly fair hair and his
childish look, had the rather foppish appearance
one supposes Raphael to have had. I have even
seen him often walking about the streets, leaning
upon one or two of his pupils, like the divine
Sanzio in the pictures of our Horace Vernet.

This refined gentleman had a very good com-
prehension of artistic things in general, but he
considered them from a terribly ideal standpoint,
So, for him, sentiment was all in a picture, whilst
execution was almost nothing. It was entirely a
question of " Mens agitat molem." And with
what amiable gravity he affirmed all this, with
what gentle influence, what unanswerable proofs
he could find in the most splendid periods of art !
Whilst he was talking, ideas so vast and spacious
crowded upon me that their realisation seemed
almost childish.

All round me I saw the walls of his studio
covered with half-finished canvases, sketches for
decorations, framework for statues, and then I dis-
covered the model for a shield. Was it a shield or
a dish? It matters not. At any rate, it was
round. About it was a frame of onyx, enclosing
bas-reliefs worked in silver; there were places left
for putting in precious stones. It looked as if it
were to become extremely beautiful, and I scarce
knew what to think of this person who went from
painting to jewellers' work, modelling into the
bargain. And I asked him, almost moved, as I
would have asked the great Benvenuto : " However
can you find time to conceive all these things,
above all, to execute them ?" And then he
answered me in this astounding way : " Oh, I have
pupils who work for me, and in this manner," he
added, making me look into a stereoscope. I
looked hard, and saw a sort of crowd of little
worms standing on their tails, some turned towards
each other, now folded or twisted round, others all
in a heap, and then separating, as if they wished
to have nothing to do with each other. I hardly
knew what I was looking at, but I did not like to
look astonished. However, my host explained to
me that they were photographs of little models
from which his pupils, or rather his workmen—
simple craftsmen, quite simple craftsmen—were to
put into execution the ideas which his thought
produced. Forget not that thought is everything.

And all at once I grasped that an Englishman,
when he has genius, can attempt everything in what-
ever branch of art it may be. For example, my
friend had an equestrian statue going on, but could
not finish it because his Italian (for an Englishman
Italy will always have the monopoly of sculpture,
had a child who was ill, and so he had to go back

to his family. There is no tool which is absolutely
faultless, and when the tool is wanting or is being
mended, Genius itself is obliged to stop, even
though it be English. And this little story, which
sounds rather like fable, is, however, entirely true;
and this idea that Genius is everything, and execu-
tion nothing, is screwed fast into the skull of every
Englishman. And there lives not a single lady,
not one noble lord in all the fashionable crush at
Burlington House yesterday, who does not believe
this. Besides, every one has seen it for himself in
a famous case. A certain sculptor, rival—why not ?
—of the great masters of the fifteenth century, but
quite without talent, had to explain before the
Court, where he was accused of having signed
another man's work, what was the artistic compass
of such and such a work. It was a question of his
busts which had been done for him by an Italian
(always an Italian) with the help of photography.
The model used to come, and the master used to
give a little touch here and there, whilst the poor
workman, the Italian, looked through a hole in the
hangings which divided the studio into two parts.
The English artist was to show the judges the
places he had worked on. He told them : this is
artistic, this is not. The public sat there the whole
time quite seriously, and no one laughed much.
And, I repeat, they really thought in their hearts
that it was not so necessary as all that for the
artist to execute his own work himself.

My readers, from whom I beg much indulgence,
doubtless surprised at the constrast between the
irony of these last lines and the lyrical commence-
ment of this study, will be asking me what I am
doing with this " sentiment " of art which I
promised to show them. I would reply to them
that what they have just read was still to prove to
them how very strong is the desire for the ideal in
this country, since not even ridicule can crush it.
For in what other country would people have
dared show their taste for art as the esthetes have
done here during the last few years. All these
young ladies with their hair a. la Botticelli, feeding
on lilies only and clothed in peacock's feathers,
these young bicyclists in the costume of the
Cinque Cento, are clear proofs of necessity for
poetry which these people ask of life. They blush
for their physical needs which they feel too im-
perious. They all eat just as much as we do,
more even, for they eat nigh all day long, but they
think it not good form to let this weakness be felt.
So they are enormously correct and proper in the
satisfaction of their needs. Indeed, they regret
that they have to nourish themselves, and, if they
do it as completely as they can, it is because the
Eternal has given them a costly framework to
maintain. But they disdain all matter. So when
they eat, it is with an air of wishing to insult their
viands. " What a pity," said an aesthete to me
one day, " that there is such an odour of cooking
in Paris; in the Rue de Rivoli it reeks of fried
potatoes. That is your national dish, is it not?
And then, how sad it is to see French women
bothering themselves about their husband's business
and sharing their pre-occupations." He need hardly
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