Studio: international art — 14.1898

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The Lay Figure

The lay figure.

“What of the Salons this year?” said
the Lay Figure; “as well ask me to
define the contents of the ‘ Encyclo-
piedia Britannica ’ in a paragraph. There is little
that is new in either, more that is true, much that
is over-true, and some things possibly which will
be remembered when the current topics of the
time are out of date; but which no wise man
would care to prophesy.”

“But what is the tendency of French painting?”
said the Aesthetic Designer. “ Is it nobler or less
noble than ours ? ”

“ So far as a visitor may judge, it is mainly com-
mercial, there as here,” the Lay Figure replied.
“ By commercial, I mean undertaken with one eye
on a public and one on the picture. The painter’s
public may be composed merely of dealers with
cheques, or of societies with honours at their com-
mand. In each case the influence is inimical to art,
which should betray neither a conscious effort to be
marketable, nor to prove the worker’s ability.”

“ Then you think French work too conscious ? ”
said the Aesthetic Designer.

“ Yes, but so is the majority of British, and
whereas the average Frenchman is usually master
of his particular technique, even the ‘eminent’
Briton is often a bungler in that respect. If one
pits the Royal Academy against the Salons in the
matter of craft and accomplished skill, the French
win all along the line.”

“Let us set aside the commercial picture,
whether painted to sell or to advance the painter’s
notoriety,” said the Aesthetic Designer. “What
of the rest ? Are we woefully inferior ? ”

“ On the whole I think not,” said the Lay
Figure. “ Some Anglo-Saxon products keep their
place at the Salon des Beaux Arts, and are among the
best things there; but even saying so much is not
very exhilarating when one remembers how certain
English-speaking painters dominated the Cbamp-
de-Mars only a few years ago.”

“ But surely there is some special feature of the
moment,” the Aesthetic Designer continued;
“ something absolutely of ’98, and of ’98 alone ? ”
“If there be—and it is an open question,” the
Lay Figure replied, “ I should think it was a deli-
berate recognition of the charm of caricature. In
the Royal Academy Sargent’s Asher Wertheimer,
and in the new Salon Rodin’s Balzac, both vault
the border line gaily, and challenge the staff of
Vanity Fair rather than Velasquez, Franz Hals,
Holbein, and the whole army of poitrait-painters.”

“ That is rather an ominous charge.” The Aes-
thetic Designer spoke very seriously,and paused. “ I
wonder if it holds good of other arts? At first blush
it may give a clue to the extravagance of ornament
which one sees everywhere.”

“ It is certainly not confined to portraits, so far
as the Salons are concerned,” the Lay Figure
continued: “ much of the furniture and interior
decoration, carvings, bindings, metal work, and the
like, seem to appeal not so much to those who really
see, as to a careless vision. Caricature, I take it,
is merely a playful exaggeration of truth put so
broadly and directly that even the unobservant
person recognises the personal idiosyncrasy where
it is over-stated, which he would not have
observed otherwise. The tendency of pattern-
makers, as of picture-makers, is to win applause,
legitimately if they can—but to win it. Now, if
you can paint like Velasquez, or make sculpture
like Phidias, at once you win over all experts to
your side; but if you add a touch of sheer cari-
cature, the mob are also fascinated.

“ I see that it is possible with painting, and
even sculpture,” the ./Esthetic Designer replied,
“ but in patterns and furniture it seems less easy
to exaggerate and retain the approval of experts.”

“ Possibly, but I am not speaking of the mere
novice, of the incapable worker whose one end is
to be noticed,” said the Lay Figure, “ but of the
master of his craft, be it what it may. We have
very few masters of any sort, and of these few some
are still content to avoid eccentricity and all
common baits for popularity; but the rest, satiated
with the approval of their fellows, seem to betray a
wish to beat the record, to be more than all things
to all men, and to serve the gods and Mammon
equally; yet to do so is possibly the way to a
danger which works near success, if not to provoke
that fatal word ‘ Charlatan,’ which has doomed
many a really great man to final contempt.”

“ Let us talk of something else,” said the
Aesthetic Designer. “ I do not mind your insin-
uating evil of mere money-grubbers ; but to hint
that our greatest heroes are in danger mainly from
overpraise is saddening. I fear we are all too
eager to be appreciated, as we call it—in other
words to be praised—and praise is always a thing
to be feared.”

“ It is but a question of ready money or credit,”
said the Lay Figure. “ If you will have cash down,
then you must not look for future profit as well.
Birthrights are sold for many messes of pottage, and
some of them seem quite reasonable transactions
at the time.” The Lay Figure.
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