Studio: international art — 14.1898

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The Lay Figure


“ A Man made a startling suggestion
lately,” said the Lay Figure. “ It
was that Rodin should be asked to
execute a great national statue of Gladstone. The
project took away one’s breath at first, but after-
wards became fascinating.”

“ I should not like to see a memorial to a great
Englishman entrusted to a Frenchman,” said an
ecclesiastical architect.

“ Why not,” the Man with a Clay Pipe broke
in, “ if he happened to be the best man ? You
could find precedents without number—from Tor-
rigiano, who designed Henry VII.’s Chapel at
Westminster, to Roubilliac’s Shakespeare. I do not
say that both these represent the best of their artists’
time. But there are hundreds of others—indeed,
to draw up a list of foreign artists to whom our
national cathedrals owe a great part of their beauty
would be enough to prove that even British Gothic
has called in foreign aid.”

“ Besides,” a Plein-air Man continued, “ look
what we all owe to France, directly—for the prac-
tically gratuitous tuition of her art-schools, open to
us as to all the world, and for her generous hospi-
tality to British art at the Paris Salons ; and, if less
obviously, still most important of all, to her sym-
pathetic intelligence that has fought many a battle in
the cause of art, and kept ideals and attempted ex-
periments when Great Britain was passing through
periods of torpid satisfaction with mediocrity.”

“ But would the French nation permit an English-
man to execute a similar work? ” said the Journalist.
“ I think not.”

“ If it be so, that surely is insufficient argu-
ment,” said the Lay Figure. “The inhospitality
shown by our own Academy to foreign artists (who
said Harpignies ?) is sufficient to balance the bias
of patriotism against art. What my friend explained
in discussing the scheme was that the peculiar
genius of Rodin might create some vivid masterpiece
which would set up not a Madame Tussaud-like
imitation of the man as he appeared, but a marvellous
interpretation of the enormous personality that
made him the hero of millions of Britons. It is not
the worthy country gentleman, not even the Parlia-
mentary debater, we might look to see at Rodin’s
hands, but the ‘ daimon ’ of Gladstone—the con-
trolling spirit, such as one sees in the vision of
Balzac, which Rodin has fixed for the world’s
delight—a realisation in marble of something we
had thought too subtle for expression in words, a
music, with all the flexibility of utterance.”

“ That sounds very alluring,” said the Journalist


calmly; “but let us imagine Rodin cared for the idea
and created a new masterpiece. Think of its recep-
tion by the average member of Parliament, the heads
of political organisations, and the rank and file of
Gladstonians. No, it is a dream, a hazy dream.”

“Possibly,” the Lay Figure replied ; “ but it is a
dream worth dreaming. What if it did astound and
annoy the great public?—think of the help it would
be to the younger British sculptors, who have
already done so much in the face of the apathy of
most people. We have, no doubt, several British
sculptors who would design irreproachably artistic
monuments, but not one, so far, who has thrown
aside precedent and dared to attempt to realise a
new form of expression in marble.”

“A nation that could tolerate Covent Garden
scenery for a Wagner festival would tolerate any-
thing except art,” said the Decadent Poet. “The
crude colouring, the hideously repellant setting of
the Nieblung's Ring, given in the height of the
season to houses paid for in advance at heightened
prices, show how patient even cultured Britons are
and how absolutely indifferent are the monied
classes. Why, as a spectacle, Der Walkiire, given
by the Carl Rosa Company when mere tenants for
a month of a smaller theatre, was infinitely above
the much-boomed Ring cycle.”

“ I fear,” said the ^Esthetic Designer, “ we are too
busy about applied art in domestic appointments
to remember that Art in its public manifestations
should interest us still more vitally. We ought to
uphold ‘ ideal ’ sculpture, and also start a crusade for
the better mounting of opera and the higher form of
drama. The State has done little for the applied
arts, yet artists and craftsmen have brought about a
renaissance; cannot we spare some of our energy and
time, perhaps even money as well, upon a mighty
effort to lift the sister art of music out of its evil
company ? Imagine what the cycle, ‘ staged ’ by
William Morris, might have been ; or Lohengrin
as Sir Edward Burne-Jones would have dressed
and grouped it, or Tannhauser mounted by Mr.
Walter Crane.”

“ Please don’t set up so many impossible ideals,”
said the Journalist: “they are all impracticable.
You are a dreamer.”

“Yes,” said the Lay Figure, “and, as Carlyle
said, the skins of the nobles who scoffed at the
dreamer Rousseau, not many months after were
tanned to bind his books. Dreamers still initiate
practical reforms. Ideal sculpture for public
monuments and artistic presentation of opera are
both dreams to-day, yet they may become facts in
the next century.” The Lay Figure.
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