Studio: international art — 25.1902

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The Lay Figure


"Mind what you say," cried the Critic to the
Designer. " It is a risky thing for you as an artist
to speak contemptuously of wealth. If it is
inevitable that wealth should interfere with the
better aspirations of the mind, how are you to
explain the fact that the best friend the artist had
in the time of the Renaissance was the commercial
prosperity of the town in which he lived and
laboured? One may say, without the least extra-
vagance, that wealth is to art what good soil is
to plants and corn and trees, and if it helps to
grow weeds as well as flowers, why in the world
should you look as self-pitiful as an influenza
patient ? "

" Stuff and nonsense.! " said the Designer, rather
peevishly. "You don't see my point. I spoke of
the misuse of wealth in its relation to the progress
of the arts generally."

" Which kind of misuse ? " returned the other.
" Do you refer to the purchasing of modern
pictures, which so frequently change colour or
crack, because the men who paint them are often
ignorant of the chemical action of one pigment
upon another ? "

" It requires some courage in speculation to be
a collector of modern pictures, I admit," said the
Designer, " but the kind of misuse of wealth which
I have in mind is the spending of immense sums
on specimens of old work—prints, furniture, por-
celain, and so forth. Recently, for instance, the
newspapers have been asking us to gape with
pleased astonishment at the one thousand guineas
paid for two Chippendale chairs, and at the three
hundred guineas squandered on two pieces of old
Chelsea porcelain. The chairs may have been
very good, the Chelsea porcelain may have been
excellent of its kind, but the prices given for them
are monstrous gambling prices, and I hold that
they are extremely bad for the prospects of art at
the present time. A love for art, as such, does not
enter at all into such rash speculations, and as long
as a wild competition for the possession of rare
things is advertised as a useful and desirable love
for art, the best work of our own time will not be
encouraged as it ought to be." •

"Suppose we grant that," said the Man with a
Clay Pipe. " Suppose we go a step further and
say that a very detestable, purse-proud vulgarity
very often flaunts itself among those who buy old

works of art, not because the works are beautiful,
but because they seem like sound investments for
capital. What then ? Talking will not prevent
such speculations, any more than it will stop
betting at races. You must make up your mind to
face the fact that the progress of art not only is
hindered, but ever will be hindered, by the appeal
made to the gambling temper by the survival of
your predecessors' efforts in the same fields. You
must needs grow your corn in thistle-filled pasture
lands, and not in clean fields."

"That's true," said the Critic, thoughtfully. "I
have written much on the debts of gratitude that
artists owe to the past, and in doing so have lost
sight of the other side of the question. Setting
aside the speculation in good old work, just think
for a moment of the bad that survives. If a man
buys a bad book, he throws it aside and forgets it;
it helps to fill a shelf, and it represents only a few
shillings rashly spent. But let him buy a few bad
pictures, a few bad engravings, a set of worthless
china ornaments, a suite of ill-designed furniture,
and these things will probably remain with him all
his life, confirming him in his bad taste, and pre-
venting him from buying better things. When he
dies he leaves them as legacies to his family, and
from that time until they become useless, either
through ill-usage or the wear and tear of years,
they are valued as heirlooms. It is thus that bad
work survives and interferes with the progress of
art in each succeeding generation."

"You may be right," said the Designer, "yet I
am inclined to believe that those who turn bad
work into heirlooms would not buy good work
even if the bad were destroyed by fire. What
troubles me is the exorbitant gambling in such old
things as have some artistic value, for when the
attention of would-be art-patrons is given to wild
speculation, the present-day arts haven't a fair

" Ridicule may do something here," said the
Reviewer. " When you come to think of it, the
art fashions at auctions are always ludicrously over-
done ; they are the ping-pong eccentricities of taste
—bad taste, usually. The other day a wealthy
collector invited me to his house, and, having told
me of the huge price he had given for every treasure,
he displayed the receipted bills pasted behind the
frames or upon the bottoms of the china ornaments.
Losing patience at last, I said : ' Sir, I've an idea
for a new collection. Why should you not frame
your Stock Exchange bonds, and then send out
invitations to the art-critics ?' "

The Lay Figure.
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