Studio: international art — 12.1898

Page: 252
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Steinlen as a Lithographer

In the first place, accuracy would seem to be one
of his first considerations. He is a lover of truth,
and nothing in his eyes is unworthy of careful
study. The simplest object of everyday life, a chair,
a table, a basket, a wall—everything pleases him,
because everything has its own fixed characteristics,
and everything to him is a subject worthy of atten-
tion. His sketch-books and studies show plainly
enough that he leaves nothing to chance—and as
much cannot be said of many artists of to-day.
He gives himself up to incessant work, neglecting
not even the smallest detail, striving always to
draw just what he sees, in all its minuteness, before
transposing and simplifying it for the finished pic-
ture. Thus it is he succeeds in creating such an
air of reality in all he does.

What, indeed, could be more real than all these
series of drawings in black-and-white and in colour,
which have appeared in the illustrated papers, such
as the Gil Bias Illustre—of which he is the suc-
cessful founder—or the Chambard, wherein his
lithographs, some of the best of his productions,
saw the light ? What could be more real, and yet
more varied ? One could not wish to look through
a more interesting collection than that containing
all these lifelike sketches, with their infinite variety
of types and surroundings and scenery—labourers
from town and country, peasants, soldiers, beggars,
street singers, petite bourgeois, street urchins of
both sexes, all the humble populace of the big
towns such as Paris, where one sees them in the
outskirts, or in the lonely avenues of the exterior
boulevards, or the queer neighbourhoods, fulfilling
their dull round of existence in misery or in vice.
And there is no one at the present day who has
caught this phase of life with more intensity, more
truthfulness, more power, or more artistic feeling
than Steinlen. The strange, the remarkable thing
is that he is never coarse, for, even in the most out-
rageous, most realistic scenes from his pencil, the
sentiment of pity is uppermost. However low they
may have fallen, be it even to the bottom of the
social ladder—whatever degree of ignominy their
faces may betray, one needs must pause before con-
demning these ruffians in caps and blouses, these
deplorable creatures, once women, but now mere
bundles of rags—one pities them instead. Steinlen
tells their sorrowful story in all its poignancy,
and shows us only too well the inner meaning
of their existence. Writ large we see all the dread-
ful history of their past; see how, little by little,
from force of circumstances, by a sort of fatality,
they have at last come to their present state, wal-
lowing, without power of resistance, in the mire !

All this is modern, eminently modern. These
are the wretched, sickly flowers which spring to life
in the foul soil of our overcrowded cities, where
every sort of luxury rubs shoulders with every sort
of wretchedness.

The series of lithographs published by M. Klein-
mann, one of which, Inside a Tramcar, is repro-
duced here, gives a striking idea of Steinlen's power.
With black-and-white on the bare stone he pro-
duces effects of great force and suppleness, and,
to those who can perceive it, full of colour too.
What energy of touch, what skill in character-
drawing are revealed in these plates ! Each one of
these various types is alive with his own individual
life, quite distinct from that of his neighbours in
this house on wheels, which for a few moments
becomes the shelter, the point of concentration,
of so many separate existences. In every one of
these faces, in the attitude in which each indi-
vidual is seated, one can read their minds, trace
the direction of their daily cares, tell their habits,
realise their modest ambitions.

Another plate in the same collection represents
the interior of some wretched garret in a workman's
home. The wife, shrunken with privation, her
features drawn by hunger, is seated on a pallet,
holding her child in her arms; while the husband,
huddled up in a corner at the back of the room,
his head between his hands, seems broken by de-
spair. He has just returned, no doubt, from seek-
ing work, but he has not found it. A silence, as
of death, hangs over these three human beings.
Despite its dignity, a commonplace drama enough,
perhaps, for it is all too common. But how won-
derfully the artist has treated it, in complete
simplicity, without a touch of the sensational or
the melodramatic ! One feels a sense of deep,
almost violent emotion; and that is enough.

Yet another. Two little laundresses, thin and
delicate-looking, are crossing a square, one carry-
ing an enormous bundle of linen, the other a heavy
basket. They are leaning back, straining every
nerve to get through their task, with suffering
written in their contracted faces.

There is also a programme, in lithography, of a
performance for the benefit of some soup fund or
other, which is full of pathos. Around the enor-
mous pot containing the steaming broth one sees a
crowd of wretched creatures holding out their
basins. In the foreground are a pair of children;
the little brother, a mite of eight at most, is
clutching his sister's dress, and standing on tip-
toe : while the girl, who is older, has a look of
mild resignation in her face. Behind them is an
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