Studio: international art — 10.1897

Page: 142
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The Lay Figure at Home

"Why this depression," said the
Journalist, " especially as both your
favourite daily papers are on your lap ? "
" That is just it," said the Lay Figure. " I have
avoided the lady decorator of the penny fashion
papers, and the snippet journals, but here she is
rampant in two of the most widely-read morning
papers. In this one she says, ' oak furniture
stained green is " coming in " again.' "

The Journalist laughed. " Why not ? surely if
you still admire it you will be glad that Suburbia
may soon be awakening to its beauty also."

" Coming in again" said the Lay Figure bitterly,
" that is the point; not that it is beautiful, or useful,
not that it is comely and unpretentious ; you are
not asked to appreciate it on its merits, but to look
on it as the mode of the moment to be dismissed
as lightly six months hence."

" What does it matter ?" the Journalist said,
" these anonymous lady journalists do but provide
what their editors believe the public demands."

" If that were all, it would be bad enough," the
Lay Figure protested; " but here is a column of
an interview with a lady decorator who says ' for
good designs we have to go to the past, and I suppose
that must always be the case.' This confession
mind you, after long paragraphs puffing her own
taste and prattling of her 'adaptations of old
Italian drawings for a Renaissance room modified so
as to suit present ideas of comfort.'1 One can imagine
those adaptations and those modifications ? Altar-
pieces, 'adapted' for over-mantels; choir stalls,
'modified' for cosy corners. It makes one despair."

■'Why be hard on lady decorators, they are no
worse than the average firm," said the Journalist.
" They both talk art, and follow fashion."

" I would not mind," the Lay Figure went on, " if
they would be honest, and say ' we know what the
average person likes, and it is easier to please him
than to educate him.' But under pretence of raising
the standard of taste, they do much the same as the
most sordid man of business would do."

" But does not your lady decorator formulate any
standard ? " said the Journalist.

" This one," said the Lay Figure, dismally re-
ferring to another paper beside him, " says ' I had
some lessons in "style" from a first-rate man; there
are also good books on the subject.' So runs the
self-confessed record; no articled pupilage, no
grinding at schools of art, no academic training on
the one hand, and on the other no bold plea of
starting anew, and carrying out fresh ideas. This

is surely making the worst of both methods.
Trusting to precedent with a mere smattering of
knowledge, eschewing innovation because of a self-
imposed formula, such as 'for good designs we must
always go to the past.'"

" But surely there are men, by the dozen, who
practise the various crafts, without better equip-
ment," said the Landscape Painter. " I have heard
you praise illustrators who could not draw, decora-
tors who could not paint; you said their ' feeling'
or their 'naive convention' atoned for lack of tech-
nical skill. Perhaps these unknown ladies possess
those indefinable qualities."

" It is easy to see you know little of their deadly
work," said the Lay Figure. " You have not seen
designs boldly set forth as 'original,' which were
the feeblest adaptations of the faults of a style that
was worth imitating at its best; you have not
fathomed the real contempt for all that we hold
important, implied in the phrase ' coming in again.'
But there is a deeper depth. In the papers I have
quoted, the worst things are probably honest efforts
to provide "home gossip," even at the cost of
art; but in the lesser papers the whole thing is
often an advertisement of some shopkeeper's goods,
with scarce a shadow of disguise. One correspon-
dent wishes she were a Rothschild, or an Astor.
To buy masterpieces of any kind ? Certainly not !
Merely to invest largely in ' sale time ' horrors, which
she illustrates, lest you might suspect that her taste
was really better than its yearnings suggested."

"But what can mere men do?" said the Journalist.
"You cannot tell a woman that her taste is abomin-
able. It is the prerogative of the female; she will
forgive you discounting her learning, her experience,
or her memory; but if you suggest that her taste is
not far above all petty rules of art, she merely
smiles at your presumption, or says you are jealous
of the superior subtlety that a woman can bring to
bear on furnishing and decoration. I agree with
you, that if the lady decorator means to stay, one
active example can do more actual harm than a
whole exhibition of the Arts and Crafts could hope
to set right again."

" Do you mean to infer that there are no artists
among women ? " asked the Decadent.

" Of course I do not," said the Lay Figure.
" There are lady-artists, and there are women with
consummate taste. Some have even written books
on the subject, and good books they are, but
the principles of decoration, which your 'sweet
Anonyme' sweeps aside with a smile, still perplex
a mere man."

The Lay Figure.
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