Studio: international art — 12.1898

Page: 140
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The Lay Figure

"Is it possible that, today, any sane
person denies art to the Japanese ? "
said the Lay Figure. " Surely you are joking."

" Well," the Man with a Clay Pipe said quietly,
" some people, you know, still declare that the
earth is flat. I find in this book on ' William

Morris ' by Aymer Vallance-"

" Yes, I know ! " broke in the Gifted Amateur,
who had dropped in against his will to prove he
was but mortal. "Morris did say all art is based
upon architecture—Japan has no architecture—
therefore Japan has no art."

" One dubious premise, one inaccurate state-
ment, and a false deduction, that is all," said the
Lay Figure. " Really even if Morris said it, it is
not worth combating seriously."

"But has Japan any architecture?" the Gifted
Amateur said in a thin sour tone. " I thought
it had but bamboo frames covered with paper,
a city of folding screens, painted with storks

"As well imagine Gothic art to be all Oxford
frames," the Lay Figure retorted. " Really if one
must go back to first principles—were not Greek
temples evolved from wooden constructions ? Do
you not know photographs of the Temples of
Kioto, Nikko, Nara, and Shiba, or of the Castle of
Nagoya ? "

"No," said the Gifted Amateur, "and I hope I
never may ; Japan does not interest me. It is so
utterly without ' soul,' and architecture is surely
concrete music, a symphony of lasting material. I
cannot feel interest in wooden houses—. Yes,
I know you say it has stone bridges and the rest—
but so far they seem to be only big 'curios.' "

" But," the Man with a Clay Pipe broke in, " is
architecture necessarily limited to brick or stone ?
If so, what of the so-called half-timbered houses
-the Town Hall of Lavenham, or Little Moreton
Hall, which are practically wooden in structure as
well as in ornament ? "

" I thought the rage for penny fans and glove
boxes at ninepence three farthings was past," said
the Gifted Amateur, taking no heed of the inter-
ruption. "Nobody regards them as 'precious'
to-day, not even in the newest suburb."

" Who that was worth listening to ever did ? "
said the Lay Figure. " As well say that because
Berlin wool-work is a horror, the mosaics at
Ravenna are also. Japan, with its draughtsmen
worthy peers of Durer, Rembrandt, or Whistler ;

its lacquer the last word of human artifice ; its
metal work absolutely beyond rivalry ; its 'all-over '
patterns, now simple and symmetrical, and again
inexhaustible in their novelty—against the evi-
dence of these even the dictum of so great a crafts-
man as Morris is merely another example of the
fallibility of genius."

" But Mr. Ruskin—" the Gifted Amateur added,
with a crushing air.

" Mr. Ruskin was more logical," the Lay Figure
broke in. " He did write to a bookseller : ' Do not
send me any more Japanese prints : they confuse
me, I am too old to go into the subject now.' One
respects his attitude, because it is a confession of
ignorance, and reveals possibly a certain dread lest
his prejudice might prove ill founded."

" I will not hear it hinted that Morris was not
logical," said the Gifted Amateur in a white rage.

" Perhaps the word was ill chosen," the Lay
Figure replied quietly. " I do not doubt that
Mr. Morris spoke with honest ignorance, but King
David also made rash statements in haste. I some-
times think that the Morris you set up as a deity
is not nearly so great a hero as the great craftsmen
we outsiders respect. To own that any man, how-
ever noble, may be unjust to certain things which
chance to clash with his preconceived opinions is
not to do him dishonour."

" I think," the Man with a Clay Pipe added, " it
is another example of Mrs. Partington trundling
back the ocean with a mop. The art of Japan,
like the art of Greece, is one of the verities beyond
fashion, above faction. You despise both, I know."

" I never despised Greek art," the Gifted
Amateur said, with an air of generous toleration.
" Of course it is infantile beside the line flowering
of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but in its
own limited way it is not despicable."

" How nice of you ! " the Lay Figure said, with a
laugh. " Gallant little Greece has found another
champion. Can you not say as much for Japan ? "

" No, most certainly not," the Gifted Amateur
retorted. " The Japanese cannot draw, have no
idea of design, no sense of beauty."

"That is quite absurd," the Lay Figure said,
with a laugh, " as absurd as Mr. Vallance's com-
ment on Morris's hasty speech, which he says Pro-
fessor John Milne and Herr Oscar Munsterberg
have corroborated on 'purely scientific grounds.'
Evidently the ostrich who puts his head in the
sand still exists. But why be angry ? The ostrich
grows fine feathers and is a good bird in many
ways ! "

The Lav Figure.
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