The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Makart, Nittis, Lepage
Makart, Nittis, Lepage.
European Art has suffered in the past year the loss of four men of genius, in Makart, Nittis, Lepage, and Munkaczy.
The last named, the painter of "Christ before Pilate," we take to be the most eminent of the quartette. Makart was the most brilliant. In Munkaczy we discern something of the mind of Doré, who, to our thinking, is far and away the greatest art genius of the present century. No artist that ever lived, not even Michael Angelo, has displayed the wealth of conception, together page 12 with prodigality of execution, combined in Doré. His imagination only needed to be chastened, and his technique schooled, to make him the foremost artist in the history of the world. We may say that more than the gifts of Raphael were there The palette wanted richness; the multiform gifts, concentration.
One cannot find the qualifications of Doré in contemplating all the varied ability of Munkaczy, Makart, Lepage, and Nittis, placing them in the order of artistic caste. In the two first, the Hungarian and the Austrian, there is the strong influence of Piloty as a master or exemplar. It is to be regretted, even from the art standpoint alone, that Makart had no religion. Infused with piety, he might have made a name by the side of Raphael, Guido, Domenichino, and Giorgione. His colouring is equal, if not superior, to Raphael's. All that is wanted is the soul. But that is everything. You remember what Coleridge is reported to have said. "I think I could write like Shakespeare if I had the mind." Whereupon Lamb said—but it is too good—." You see, all he requires is the mind."
Royal and aristocratic patronage was the ruin of Makart. His divine art was choked and stifled with wealth, so that he became a mere upholsterer and depictor of "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." Sir Frederick Leighton works chiefly, though not altogether, on the same low basis. Millais has thrown himself away on portraits. Orchardson takes a cynical, false motive for a picture of such skill as his "Marriage of Covenance." On "The Entrance of Charles V. into Antwerp," Makart lavished his magnificent coloration and immoral taste. In his "Cleopatra on the Nile," there is the same exuberance, with the indispensable underlying vicious sentiment.
Nittis was an almost unique painter of the fleeting aspects of busy life. Fortuny is his nearest of artistic kin. Nittis delighted in accomplishing what might be called a free hand photograph in the moist, vivid colours of actuality, of a scene in the street, with every movement in a myriad arrested on the very hang. Though his art was essentially French, he discovered his most prolific field in London.
Bastien Lepage was a thoroughly healthy artist, with the highest technical skill, in a secondary walk. Eminence in the first line can only be attained in heroic subjects, with the grand style which has been the law from Praxiteles to Turner. Country life, with a bias for figure subjects, was the forte of Lepage. We say that artists in this groove, beautiful and innocent as it is, can never rank among the very foremost. The German artists take higher and nobler flights, in theme, than the French. The literary school of Zola is reflected in the French art of to-day led by such painters as Bonnat and Bougereau.
The success of Lepage proved that the current views could page 13 be flaunted by an independent artist. In England we have none so eminent of the same type. He comprised excellencies from Corot, Crome, and Linnell, with the human interest which they could not afford.
With all its faults, the French Salon is infinitely superior to the Royal Academy, and to any display of current art in Berlin or Vienna. The Germans have a pure ideal, but lack nature. Their treatment is classical, polished as fine as a needle. All is Greek, and we find it refreshing to turn to the French, where nature is slavishly copied.
It seems to us that the germ of modern greatness in art is planted in France. Time will produce another Raphael, as well as another Homer and Shakespeare. When modern civilisation and society have been subverted, Art, Antæus-like, will touch its mother earth.