Handbook of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts - Part 10

Part 10

The tripod table was perhaps the most important achievement of Thomas Chippendale as innovator, for it was his exclusive creation. The tripod table in our collection was made approximately between 1760 and 1765. The quality of the carving is so excellent, the sense of style so marked, that, if not by Chippendale himself, the table is surely the work of a cabinet maker who closely rivaled the famous master. Tripod tables are commonly referred to in doc.u.ments of the period as "snap tables." The top is hinged so that it can be tilted back to save s.p.a.ce. When in use it is held in place by a sliding catch, which snaps sharply into position when the top is let down.

[Card Table, Mahogany English or American, about 1750-1775]

Card Table, Mahogany English or American, about 1750-1775

Card playing, often for high stakes, was so much the rage in the XVIII century that there were generally several card tables in a fashionable house of the period. The folding card table, here reproduced, dates about 1750-1775 and was possibly made in America rather than in England.

Characteristic of the Chippendale manner are the cabriole legs and the style of the relief carving. One of the legs swings outward to support the hinged half of the top when open; the rounded corners of the top served as candle stands.

Note the fine carving of the moulded rim with its foliated scallop sh.e.l.ls.

The fluted shaft and the cabriole legs with ball-and-claw feet are well proportioned.

[Dressing-table, Mahogany. American, about 1760-1775]

Dressing-table, Mahogany. American, about 1760-1775

The dressing-table, or low-boy, ill.u.s.trated above, is a fine example of the more elaborate cabinet work done in this country during the XVIII century. It dates from about 1760 to 1775, and was probably made in Philadelphia. In a dressing-table very similar to ours there has been found the advertis.e.m.e.nt of the maker, "William Savery, at the Sign of the Chair near the Market on Second Street, Philadelphia." The small group of existing furniture to which our piece belongs includes some of the finest examples of American furniture. Low-boys and high-boys; that is, dressing-tables and high chests of drawers on legs, would appear generally to have been made in pairs. The companion piece to our lowboy has been lost sight of, but the type is well known. The lower part would have been about the same in design as the dressing-table; the chest of drawers, which it supported, completed by a scroll top. The high chest of drawers enjoyed a long continued popularity in America. The type just described, despite its Chippendale motifs, was distinctly American. The expressions, high-boy and low-boy, are not found in the old records; they probably originated later in derision, when the chest of drawers and its accompanying table seemed grotesquely out of fashion.

[Large Flip Gla.s.s and Two Liquor Bottles. Stiegel Gla.s.s, American, XVIII Century.]

Large Flip Gla.s.s and Two Liquor Bottles. Stiegel Gla.s.s, American, XVIII Century.

We take gla.s.s so much for granted today that it is difficult for us to realize how rare and precious a commodity it was to the first settlers of this country. It is significant that the first attempt to establish a manufacturing industry in the American colonies was the building and equipping of a gla.s.s house. About the middle of the XVIII century, gla.s.s began to be manufactured upon an extensive scale. The Stiegel Gla.s.s Works, the second successful gla.s.s factory, and the best known of the early American works, commenced operations at Manheim, Pa., in 1765.

"Baron" Stiegel-his t.i.tle was a courtesy one-was born in Germany, at Cologne, in 1729; came to Philadelphia in 1750; married the daughter of a rich iron master; and in the course of time, launched his ambitious project for the establishment of a gla.s.s manufactory that would compete successfully with the European gla.s.s centers for the American market. The Colonies were then going through a period of economic stress that was soon to lead to the Revolution. Unable or unwilling to read the signs of the time aright, Stiegel speedily met with financial embarra.s.sment, failed in 1774, and was even imprisoned for debt. The victim of his own vanity, or rather self-confidence, this early American captain of industry died in dest.i.tution, January 10, 1785. His factory, maintained for a while after is failure, was not operated after 1780. The three pieces of gla.s.s ill.u.s.trated above are typical of the white flint gla.s.s with engraved designs made at the Stiegel works. The manufactory was also renowned for its colored flint gla.s.s, and for gla.s.s with enameled decoration.


[Le Beurre, by Ovide Yenesse.]

Le Beurre, by Ovide Yenesse.


The American painters of the Colonial period and of the first fifty years following the Revolution were followed by a group of landscape painters, known as the Hudson River school, who were more indigenous and original than their predecessors. These men enthusiastically transcribed the scenery of their native America, especially the Catskill Mountains and the valley of the Hudson.

With George Inness began what might be called the middle school of American landscape, which came to be one of the most important contributions that America has made to painting. Inness discarded the humble literalism of Kensett and the grandiloquence of Bierstadt. Like his contemporaries at Barbizon, he preferred more intimate subjects, and of their detail he aimed to give only enough to reproduce the single, synthetic emotion into which his poetic fire could fuse the scene. Among his able contemporaries and successors were Wyant, Homer Martin, Tryon, Eaton, Ranger, Blakelock and Horatio Walker. To this tradition in landscape was added a virile foundation of marine painting in the works of Winslow Homer.

Artists of power and individuality, whose influence on the development of American painting would be difficult to trace, include the great, perhaps rather un-American, Whistler, revealer of subtle tone relations; Vedder, master of rhythmic line; La Farge, rich colorist and decorator; Albert P.

Ryder, with his glowing color and romantic imagination; George Fuller, whose tender poetry and mellow, golden-brown tone were his native gift; William Morris Hunt, whose enthusiasm as teacher, more than whose example as artist, revealed to younger men the new breadth and insight of their contemporaries in France.

The seventies and eighties of the century were marked in general by a dependence upon the art of Europe. A group of men, including Duveneck, Chase and Shirlaw, went to Munich whence they brought home a solid, painter-like technique and a sober tonality. These qualities became a factor in the early development of such artists in America as John W.

Alexander and Joseph De Camp. Edwin A. Abbey, painting in England, developed the romantic anecdote. The strongest influence, however, came out of Paris, mother of modern art movements. The teachings of such masters as Gerome, Bonnat and Carolus-Duran were a.s.similated without sacrifice of individuality. Fresher, breezier color and a more brilliant technique came into American figure painting. To this group belong Thayer, Volk, Dewing and Brush, refined painters of figures; Low and c.o.x, followers of a more cla.s.sic tradition; Gari Melchers, whose greater directness comes partly out of Holland, Mary Ca.s.satt, influenced by Manet and Degas; and Sargent, whose gusto, spontaneity, and brilliant technique have made him one of America's four or five greatest painters.

Weir, Twachtman and Ha.s.sam imported the new enthusiasm for Impressionism, for the use of pure colors in reproducing high-keyed effects of ephemeral sunlight. Tarbell, Reid, Little, C. H. Davis, Symons, Redfield and Frieseke show to varying extent the same influences. The present tendency in American painting seems to be toward greater diversity and a more unfettered a.s.sertion of personality, as exemplified by such men as Davies, Henri, Hawthorne and Bellows.

[Mount Whitney. Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902]

Mount Whitney. Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902

No member of the Hudson River school, probably, imbibed so much of the qualities of the Dusseldorf masters as did Bierstadt. He chose for his big canvases panoramas from impressive scenes in Yellowstone Park and in the Rockies. He attempted to give the illusion of reality to these by a minutely detailed rendition of foreground, while the subject itself, with his favorite lowering clouds and romantic haze, was to produce the desired grandeur. The result made his paintings popular in America of his own time; but today his grandeur seems a little theatrical.

[The Conch Divers. Winslow Homer, 1836-1910]

The Conch Divers. Winslow Homer, 1836-1910

It is rare that an artist uses with equal success both water color and oil. With Winslow Homer one hardly knows which to admire more, his oil paintings or his water colors. His oils are, perhaps, more bare, more elemental than the water colors, but the tones are harsher and often less true. In the winter of 1885-1886, Homer visited the Bahama Islands, where a new world of color was opened to his eyes. The water colors which he made during this and subsequent voyages are among the finest things he ever did. Among these is The Conch Divers: negroes on the deck of a sloop are watching the reappearance of a diver who has just come up alongside with some sh.e.l.ls in his hand. The Island of New Providence with its palms is seen in the distance at the right. The composition is admirable; the figures are drawn with great power.

"It is Winslow Homer's distinction that he was the first American painter to use an American idiom," writes William Howe Downes. "Not only his subjects, but his manner of treating them; not only his motives, but his point of view; not only his material, but the style and sentiment in which he clothes it, have the stamp of Americanism indelibly impressed upon them." This spirited statement might be qualified by the observation that it is George Inness and Fuller who express more truly the spirit of American rural life; while it is Homer who expresses the spirit of the frontiersman, the deep-sea fisherman, and all those whose lives bring them face to face with the bare facts of the unmitigated elements.

[Moonlit Surf, Paul Dougherty, 1877-]

Moonlit Surf, Paul Dougherty, 1877-

A contemporary American painter of rocks and sea who may be considered to be in a sense a successor to Winslow Homer, is Paul Dougherty. He is thoroughly American in spirit, and mainly self-taught. After a brief career in the law, he turned to painting. With a knowledge of drawing and perspective as a foundation upon which to proceed, he went to Europe where he spent several years studying without masters in Paris, London, Florence, Venice and Munich.

He returned to his native country more American than ever. Our artists, he said, walked too near the sterile soil of eclecticism, deferred too much to established codes. Like Winslow Homer, he scorned the nicer subtleties of personal moods. He rejoiced in nature's more vigorous aspects and he looked at her impersonally, objectively. This pa.s.sion for puttmg things down as they are rather than using them as a means of expressing his individual moods, is, curiously enough, the key to the individual note which stamps his canvases. At the same time this literal tendency seems to some critics to be his greatest weakness.

He has devoted himself almost exclusively to chronicling the moods of the sea, to transcribing the profound surging billows, the swirling of eddies, the resistless pounding of waves against cliffs, the dash of spray upward into the light. A good example of these fresh sea-pieces is Moonlit Surf.

It is a comparatively recent work, and shows the sea striking against rocks and sweeping into their crevices, while a warm moonlight, glancing over the crests of waves, gives color.

[Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight. John S. Sargent, 1856-]

Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight. John S. Sargent, 1856-

In this canvas, Sargent has shown the hushed pensiveness of mood, the perfection of sensitively modulated color of which his many-sided genius is capable, but which it has, in fact, rarely attained to such a degree as here. The subject of the painting is the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris at twilight, with the moon rising above the trees. In the distance may be seen the dome of the Pantheon. Various groups of figures lend the scene a measured animation. The picture is hardly more than a sketch, but its justness of values conveys an impression of reality which is characteristic of the artist. Particularly attractive is the mellow tone of the painting. The soft tawny grays of the foreground, the sombre green of the thickly-ma.s.sed trees; the note of rose in the woman's costume, form an exquisite harmony, accentuated by occasional touches of black. It was presented by Sargent to his friend Charles Pollen McKim, the celebrated architect, who died in 1909. It is signed, "To my friend McKim, John S.

Sargent." A replica of this painting, in the John G. Johnson Collection, is dated 1879.-The Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection.

[The White Bridge. John H. Twachtman, 1853-1902]

The White Bridge. John H. Twachtman, 1853-1902

At the time of Twachtman's death, fear was expressed by a fellow artist that the canvases he had left behind might prove too fine a food for the general palate. In the intervening years, however, general taste has become better accustomed to the impressionist mode of expression; and today anyone must be in hara.s.sed and impatient mood who does not respond to the sensitive appeal of Twachtman's vague landscapes. These carry to the last degree of refinement the idea that spiritual rather than physical facts are properly the subject matter of art.